Andy Fillmore knows a lot about the Spring Garden and Queen development. Arguably, he know more than anyone else in the city—as the municipality’s urban design project manager, Fillmore’s job involves keeping a close eye on the site, which has been unoccupied ever since the former Halifax infirmary was torn down and the lot became a coveted piece of vacant downtown property.
But even Fillmore can be caught off guard.
“About a month or so ago, I was walking past the site,” he says, “and I could see the gravel being spread and it was being compressed with steamrollers. I thought, ‘What are these guys doing here?’”
The gravel has been flattened into an interim parking lot, which now occupies roughly half the length of the vacant lot running parallel to Queen Street. As Fillmore later discovered, the gravel-and-parking lot arrangement had been built into the province’s initial contract to tear down the infirmary—a plan that had been finalized four years ago.
“In that middle-block space, study calls for an interim park at the foot of Clyde Street—put down some sod, make some nice green space for Jazz Fest and what have you—so, I was quite alarmed about a month ago to see gravel being compressed where that park was suppose to go.”
Fillmore says the parking lot hadn’t been a secret, but the city “just didn’t know or didn’t ask about it.” “The province and HRM are now in talks about who is ultimately going to own that land. We expect that the land ownership question will be resolved within a month or two. Assuming that all works out, we’d like to get the park in there as soon as we can.”
There have been other surprises. Two weeks ago, a community advisory group for the property expressed concern over the proposed relocation of a Dalhousie parking lot to the corner of Queen and Morris, towards the southern end of the property. Dal has already approved the deal, and is now awaiting approval from the provincial government.
“It seemed like a good idea to and to Dalhousie to put it down next to Gerard Hall,” says Fillmore. “The community wasn’t so keen on that.” During the public planning session for the property, the Queen and Morris corner had been discussed as a potential location for a new residential or commercial building, which is why the proposed parking lot caused such a stir. However, Fillmore says Dalhousie’s pending parking agreement doesn’t necessarily put and end to that plan.
“Dalhousie could act as a developer themselves and reap the financial rewards, or they could put their 111 parking spaces underneath a new development, or find some other space for them. Or they could actually give up the development rights of the site to another developer,” he says.
Finally, the most visible corner of the property—the corner of Spring Garden and Queen—is also in a holding pattern until land control issues are resolved. That corner has been widely discussed as a location for a new downtown library branch.
“The province is interested in selling the corner of Spring Garden and Queen to the HRM, because they know the HRM wants to put a library there,” says Fillmore.
Dan Davis, communications director for the provincial Department of Transportation and Public Works, says it’s still unclear when new developments and construction might start to replace the interim parking arrangements that have sprung up on much of the property.
“It has a lot to do with when we finish negotiating on ownership or exchanges of land.” he says. “But, right from the beginning, the province has removed what people considered an eyesore at the property —the plan from the beginning is not to have an entire parking lot there.”
Fillmore says a final report on the project, which he has worked on with other project consultants, will hopefully go simultaneously to city council and the province in early September. “At this stage, it does not prescribe the land uses—what the buildings will be—but it does reflect community sentiment about what the public has said the buildings ought to be.”