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Big changes to Hali skyline

Morse's Teas sign painted, Skye Halifax and the convention centre.


The Morse's Tea building, painted over.
  • The Morse's Tea building, painted over.
The Halifax skyline is changing before our eyes. Whether that’s good or bad is matter of opinion, but the first significant change was nearly universally panned on social media.

Over the weekend, Twitter was abuzz with word that the iconic sign on the Morse’s Teas building on Hollis Street was being painted over. Sure enough, the block lettering was whited out, and now there is simply a white band where the words “Morse’s Teas” once were.

In 2007, the city’s Heritage Advisory Committee OKed structural changes to the building, but insisted “that the Morse’s Teas sign band be maintained as a distinctive feature of the building,” according to minutes from the meeting. There has been no subsequent reversal of that policy.

The building is owned by Louis Reznick of Starfish Properties, who told the CBC that he was restoring the building to a previous incarnation known as the Jerusalem Warehouse. Problem is, there’s no known photographic or other evidence that there was every a “Jerusalem Warehouse” sign on the building, and Reznick never had the change approved in any event.

Halifax council Tuesday asked for a report on the sign, which should be delivered on November 13.

A more substantial alteration of the skyline is United Gulf Developments’ proposed Skye Halifax project, which if built would see two 48-storey apartment buildings rise on Grafton Street. United Gulf had previously proposed the 24-storey Twisted Sister towers on the same site, but failed to start construction before the development agreement expired.

The Skye proposal utterly violates the height and massing standards outlined in HRM By Design, the set of planning rules that govern development downtown. If development proposals fall within the HRM By Design standards, then they are approved as a matter of course. Developers are free to put forward proposals like Skye that fall outside the HRM By Design standards, but if so, Halifax council has the option of rejecting them without consideration, or can take the additional step of holding a public hearing and then voting for approval or disapproval.

The Skye proposal is so large that besides breaking the spirit of HRM By Designs’s design standards, groups like the Downtown Halifax Business Commission fear it would max out the rental market and kill all hope of any further development for another 20 years or so.

For those reasons, many councillors wanted to reject Skye outright Tuesday, but a council majority agreed to kick the entire issue forward to November 13, the first sitting of the newly elected council. In practical terms, this means that Skye’s most vocal council critics, including out-going councillors Dawn Sloane, Sue Uteck, Jackie Barkhouse, Debbie Hum and Bob Harvey, will not be present for the vote. Approving a public hearing is a two-step process, requiring a “yes” vote both on November 13 and the following meeting, November 20. If approved, a hearing would likely be scheduled sometime in the new year.

Another skyline issue facing the new council is the convention centre, which is approved by all governments, but for which there is still no management agreement. Mayor-elect Mike Savage has close personal connections to Trade Centre Limited, as well as at least one significant campaign contribution from a TCL exec. At the same time, there appears to be a deal in the works to outsource both the city’s and the province’s back-end financial departments to IBM, which is rumoured to be a tenant for the office building above the convention centre. -

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