City Hall, Tell Us Why

APL Properties Ltd has a dream to erect a monumental 29-storey building at the end of an axis. Unlike in Rome or Paris, this axis doesn’t end in an important public building, such as the Colosseum or the Opera. It ends in a stack of private 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. It’s merely the size of the stack that makes it a monument: what president George Armoyan called “a landmark for the city I can put my signature on” (pre-strike Chronicle-Herald, 24 Oct. 2014).

This monument faces only one direction: toward the Bell Road axis. APL Properties Ltd isn’t concerned about the other side, as that view is never shown in the architectural renderings. That missing view had to be pieced together from other images. It shows a neighbourhood (Parker Street and Welsford Park) that would become APL’s backside.

To erect its dream, APL Properties Ltd is asking City Hall to waive ten regulations in the Halifax Peninsula Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-law. Most of these deficiencies were highlighted already in the 2014 Planning staff report.

  • its population density is 590 persons per acre, 4.7 times what is permitted
  • its height is two to six times what is permitted
  • its landscaped open space is much less than what’s required
  • it provides fewer parking spaces than required
  • its ground-level setback from adjacent properties is less than required
  • its upper-storey angled stepbacks from the street are much less than required
  • its height and mass are incompatible with the adjacent neighbourhood
  • it would increase ground-level wind in the local area
  • it would decrease sunlight in the local area and on the Common
  • it would add traffic to the surrounding area

City Hall may waive a regulation if the developer can show that the proposal would provide a net benefit to the public. The standards for doing so are supposed to be high. As noted in the 2014 Planning staff report (p. 5), “Amendments to an MPS are generally not considered unless it can be shown that circumstances have changed since the document was adopted to the extent that the original land use policy is no longer appropriate. Site-specific MPS amendments, in particular, require significant justification to be considered.”

Where is that justification, City Hall? So far, all we’ve heard is “to increase residential density on peninsular Halifax” (2014 staff report, p. 2).

Meanwhile, the new Centre Plan is being drafted. Would it support APL’s dream? A close inspection shows that APL’s development would fail on eleven counts:

  • maximum building height (p. 97)
  • building massing: 750 m2 GFA limit for upper storeys (p. 98)
  • height transition to adjacent buildings (p. 97)
  • stepback of upper storeys (p. 98)
  • maximum Floor Area Ratio (p. 96)
  • minimum outdoor amenity space (p. 96)
  • contribute to the character of the surrounding area (p. 96)
  • public benefits through density bonusing (p. 97)
  • conduct a wind study to assess pedestrian comfort (p. 33)
  • sunlight on the Common: no equinox shadows beyond 20 metres (p. 34)
  • minimize impact of vehicular traffic on the public realm (p. 69)

City Hall has suggested reducing APL’s dream to 20 storeys, as a “happy medium,” but that would still break the rest of these regulations. Focusing solely on height is simplistic.

With APL failing both tests – the existing regulations and the draft future regulations – what’s left? What other reasons could there be? We know that approving this development would immediately increase the value of the property by $8 million, but that’s a private benefit for the developer, not a public benefit.

At the May 23 Public Hearing, there will be a one-sided sales pitch by the developer. We’ll hear about how this building would help densify the peninsula. We’ll also be shown attractive renderings – but not the backside of the building. Fair enough. As with any sales pitch, buyer beware. [This public hearing was cancelled at the developer’s request.]

But that’s not good enough. We also want to hear from you, City Hall. We want you to stand up at the Public Hearing and tell us why all of these regulations in the Municipal Planning Strategy, the Land Use By-law, and even the draft Centre Plan should be waived.

If all you can say publicly is “densify the peninsula,” we’ll know that the other reasons for approving this 20- or 29-storey building are being hidden from us. We expect you to be more accountable than this. Otherwise, why bother with a Public Hearing? This isn’t what we voted for in October.

Steve Parcell / 9 May 2017