EAC won't support HRM By Design

Ecology Action Centre refuses to support the Halifax's design plan, citing the lack of sustainable building standards as their main issue with the plan.

A press release from the Ecology Action Centre: On March 24th HRMbyDesign’s plan for downtown Halifax was presented to the Committee of the Whole. The Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is concerned that despite HRM’s contribution to Nova Scotia’s total CO2 emissions, there is no demand for the reduction of greenhouse gas levels within the Downtown Plan. The EAC is advocating that sustainable building practices be made mandatory in the Plan—at present they are not. Alec Brown, Co-Chair of the Ecology Action Centre’s Built Environment Committee states, “HRMbyDesign promises a rush of development, but before we open the door to this, we first ought to establish the kind of development we want to see”. Without the addition of mandatory sustainable building practices, the EAC cannot support the Plan.

The first principle identified by participants in the initial HRMbyDesign workshop is that development must be sustainable. The EAC agrees. However, the EAC feels that in order to address this first principle, mandatory building requirements must be included in the Plan.

HRM has stated it cannot act until the Province makes changes to the Building Code. The EAC disagrees that HRM does not have the authority to take action. Under Section 197 of the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter, Council has the power to make by-laws concerning “the health, well being, safety and protection of persons”. Jen Powley, TRAX Coordinator states that "environmental health certainly falls within this provision". Recognizing that sustainability is fundamental to the ongoing health of the community, the EAC calls on HRM to adopt a by-law requiring that all new or newly renovated buildings in the municipality adhere to a certain level of energy efficiency, water conservation and sustainable building practices.

The Plan should require that all new construction and renovation projects meet a standard such as LEED Silver with a provision that energy points have been awarded for building design, construction and operations. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized set of criteria for environmentally sustainable construction and energy efficiency. HRM would not be setting a precedent with such a provision. The city of Vancouver’s Eco-Density Guidelines require a standard of LEED Gold or BuiltGreen BC Gold. While HRM is willing to wait for the Province to act, the EAC wants action now.

The EAC feels that the Plan does not ensure sustainability but instead depends on developers to implement it based on the lure of additional height. The Plan allows all developments to reach a height of 70 per cent of the maximum without regard for the building’s conservation attempts. Developers can only build the additional 30 per cent if they provide certain public amenities that may or may not include green building standards.

The EAC contends that sustainability should not be optional. Ecological sustainability must be a require-ment for all development across the municipality, whether a building is two storeys or ten. The EAC recognizes that the Downtown Development Plan is relevant only to a specific area, but feels that it sets a precedent for the municipality as a whole. Powley states that, “if HRM desires to be sustainable, they need to start demanding it, not merely hoping that developers will opt for it”.

The EAC would like HRM to stand up to the Province and necessitate that all new construction downtown meet responsible standards of sustainability.

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