Running a social enterprise presents many challenges and contradictions. Last week I requested that council look out for The Bus Stop Theatre's future by requiring changes to (or not approving) the proposed designs for the Housing Trust's eight-storey apartment building. Throughout the process of public information sessions and review, I have continuously been overooked, patronized and misrepresented. When I took my concerns to council last Tuesday, I believed in the strength of my argument and did not criticize the Housing Trust or aggressively lobby for my case. When council denied my request and approved the plans without change, I wondered aloud (and on Facebook): "Why do I love this city that does not value what I am doing for it?"
For four years I have been running Gottingen Street's Bus Stop Theatre as a volunteer. The theatre is unfunded and doesn't make enough money to pay staff or decrease the deficit it carries. The lot behind the Bus Stop on Maitland is our emergency fund, but it is only worth something if it can be developed. The Housing Trust's proposed designs assume that our backlot will never be developed and limit its development potential.
Here is a summary of my letter to council:
I respectfully request that you do not approve the Housing Trust development's application as it is presented in Case 18547 AKA The MET site. This is an important decision that will affect my future, the Bus Stop Theatre and Gottingen Street. If they build what they have proposed, the lands I hold on Maitland behind the theatre will lose their development potential and the likelihood of the Bus Stop continuing to be viable decreases significantly.
It is inexcusable to assume that the backlot, which is currently empty---except for my garden, greenhouse and pond---is a free and public good. It is private property, of value to my enterprise and has potential to further contribute to the neighbourhood's development. I recognize Metro Housing Trust's mission to provide affordable housing; however I do not believe that due consideration has been given to the impact on the Bus Stop Theatre property as well as on the development of the neighbourhood.
If the proposed eight-storey tower is built 10 feet from the property line, the urban form produced would be two towering concrete blank walls 10 feet apart. More likely, the inability to provide south-facing windows will lead to the lands remaining vacant, rather than being developed in a way that provides revenue for my enterprise and our city.
If the development is approved, I request that the proposed tower setback along my property line be increased by 7.5 feet. Currently provided above the two-storey concrete wall being built on my property line the six-storey tower is only 10 feet. Seventeen-and-a-half feet is a reasonable request as it is the same distance provided for units facing existing buildings. This setback is required to retain the development potential of the theatre's back lot.
I am also concerned that snow load studies have not been provided to the impacted owners. There is a significant retaining wall between the two properties and no plan is presented which explains how this will be addressed. In the city staff report, the shadow studies prove how its height and current setback would mean a significant loss of sunlight on my adjoining property. Increasing the distance between the proposed tower and my property line would mitigate that impact.
The neighbourhood needs more people---I just moved into a one-bedroom for $450 a month just up the street. The Housing Trust has millions in government funding on the basis that it will provide needed affordable housing. The Trust has suggested that somewhere around $700 would be its affordable rate. This project will interfere with the existing market and the area will lose the interest of small independent investors.
The theatre will lose revenue due to construction sounds disrupting the theatre environment. Debris from construction will mean I can't plant seeds in that soil. The Bus Stop Theatre would love to have hundreds more people living on Gottingen Street, but if we are going to live to see that day, we need you to help us protect our future.
Clare Waqué moved to Nova Scotia from Toronto, like so many others, to attend university. Clare manages The Bus Stop Theatre—which is Halifax’s only black-box rental venue—has an active art practice and is a collaborator on several community development projects, including Street Stories, Earth Church, North End Pirate Radio and Fry Fuel.