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What "anti-development" means

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Have you heard? Halifax is anti-development. It's a giant conspiracy on the part of heritage freaks and anti-growth politicians to pull the rug out from anyone who wants what's really, really (really!) best for the city.

Or, well, maybe not. Here's a short list of development projects that have recently been announced, approved or otherwise in the works in downtown Halifax:

International Place The Empire Company has held development rights for a building on the "triangle land" adjacent to Delta Barrington Hotel for over 30 years. They could have built at any time over the past three decades, no questions asked, no council approval needed, but chose not to. Earlier this year, however, Empire announced that it will build a 22-storey tower with 450,000 square feet of office space---they could have built up to 600,000 square feet. They've made the announcement several months ago, but still the land sits as a parking lot, with no obvious sign of anything in the works.

Twisted Sisters Halifax council's denial of the project was overturned by the Utility and Review Board last year, so there is nothing preventing United Gulf from constructing two 27-storey towers on the Texpark site. The proposal calls for 700,000 square feet, split between condos and retail. But United Gulf is evidently waiting out the upcoming recession, as no work has begun and president Navid Saberi has reportedly said that he'll figure out when to start building "over the next two years."

Roy Building Developer Lou Reznick plans to tear down the Roy building (save its facade) and two adjacent buildings and construct a 17-storey tower with 239,000 square feet of office space. Reznick has gotten his application in before more stringent HRM by Design rules apply, so while council approval is needed, he'll be facing a much lower hurdle than he would have under the new rules.

Brewery Market This summer, Halifax council approved a mixed use development on the southern portion of the Keith's Brewery property. The project includes a 21-storey tower with 110 residential units and ground floor retail. Construction has yet to begin.

Trillium Also this summer, Halifax council approved a 19-storey project for the corner of South Park and Brenton Place. It includes 80 condo units and 30,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Three heritage houses on the property were demolished over the Thanksgiving weekend, but construction of the new building has yet to begin.

Salter Block Halifax council approved the Salter Block development in June, 2006, but the waterfront site remains a parking lot, although the Waterfront Development Corporations says work will begin "sometime in 2009." The project includes a 12-storey condo building, a five-storey hotel and 65,000 square feet of retail.

Nova Scotia Power Emera, the parent company of Nova Scotia Power, has announced that it will tconvert the old waterfront power station into a 110,000 square feet office building to accommodate its corporate headquarters. Because Nova Scotia Power wants to increase electric rates to pay for construction costs, the project needs to be approved by the Utility and Review Board, but otherwise there are no regulatory obstacles. City council won't vote on it.

Chronicle Herald redevelopment Developer Joe Ramia, who has acquired the old Chronicle Herald building on Argyle Street, as well as the Midtown Tavern, behind it on Grafton Street, has announced a 150,000 square foot mixed use redevelopment, and holds a demolition permit for tearing down the Chronicle Herald building. He could start his project at any time, but has put the plans on hold in hopes of winning the bid for a new Convention Centre on the site. For either project he'll need council approval, but given the history of the site it's unlikely that he would try to break the height limits; he'll be easily approved otherwise.

Cogswell interchange The Halifax council has put out a request for proposal for the Cogswell interchange, over 13 acres of land that could be used for just about anything. No one at all opposes using this land for office space, tall buildings, convention centres, whatever. Discussion should move forward in coming months; the expectation is that development of the property will more than pay for demolition of the interchange.

That's certainly a long list for a city that hates, hates, hates development and gets in the way of developers at every turn.

Now let's step back and examine the overall rental picture downtown. There are 4.47 million square of office space downtown, with 1.4 million square feet of that in the celebrated "Class A" category. In that category, the vacancy rate is 4.3%. If you listen to those decrying the allegedly anti-development council, you'll hear that we have a horridly low vacancy rate, but in reality, the national average is 4.7%. That's right-- they're screaming because Halifax's rate is slightly below the national average. Consider further that the projects above would add at least 799,000 square feet of new Class A office space, a 57% increase---assuming anyone would actually get around to building it.

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