Look Beyond APL

The Willow Tree Group has been opposing APL’s proposal since 2014. The last public meeting about APL (and Westwood) was in 2015. The public was strongly against it then. Now we’re back again, and nothing has changed.

Focusing on the number of storeys in APL is too narrow. This development contravenes seven by-laws. On this tiny site, its population density is 588 persons per acre. For comparison, the limit downtown is 250 and elsewhere on the peninsula it’s 125. It also contravenes the height limit (2–4 times what’s permitted), setback from adjacent properties, stepback of upper storeys from the street, on-site landscaped open space, and on-site parking. It’s also incompatible with the adjacent two-storey neighbourhood on Parker Street (which is never shown in APL’s drawings).

Focusing solely on APL is also too narrow. According to the draft Centre Plan, APL would be followed by a half-kilometre of 15-storey buildings along Quinpool, as far west as Monastery Lane (where Canadian Tire is currently located), north to the Quingate Place condos, and south to Pepperell Street. APL would set a precedent and a direction for Quinpool’s future. This is hardly a way to make a public street.

There has never been any local public consultation about plans for Quinpool. The Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy (Section 12.2–12.6 on Citizen Participation) expects the City to create area planning offices to do neighbourhood area plans and to consult with the public on items of neighbourhood concern, such as development proposals.

The initial Centre Plan workshops in 2016 were fine for setting some general ambitions for the whole Centre Plan area. The 100-decibel open house at the Atlantica Hotel, where the public was expected to review 22 projects quickly and respond by placing stickies on panels, was insulting and a cynical attempt at public participation. Let’s not do that again.

The APL situation seems to be a symptom of deeper problems at City Hall. For the past two or three years, Council has instructed the Planning department to disregard the Land Use By-laws and accept all development applications as potential plan amendments. On the Planning department website, APL is one of 122 projects in the queue. Each application commits the Planning department and the public to a 12-step process that can take several years. That’s exhausting for everyone and a colossal waste of time and energy, especially at a time when attention should have been devoted to the Centre Plan. Firing the chief planner didn’t help.

The draft Centre Plan is not law but the Planning department is pretending that it is. The first half of the Centre Plan is ambitious: It describes social, economic, physical, environmental, and experiential ambitions. The second half of the Centre Plan (starting on page 87) gives up on most of those ambitions; it’s a one-liner about density and physical form, the same as the abandoned Corridor Plan from 2012. There’s an enormous vacuum in the middle of the Centre Plan. I hope we can address that next month, when it comes back for public discussion. Effective planning can’t be done by calling Quinpool a “centre,” assigning maximum height limits and floor areas, then standing back and letting developers make the rest of the decisions.

In the Quinpool area, we expect City Hall to do proper research and analysis on our district: current strengths to maintain, current weaknesses to repair, future opportunities to pursue, and future threats to resist. Without this, there is no foundation for moving forward or for building public support. When there are no solid criteria or standards for evaluating a proposal such as APL, we’re susceptible to being fooled by willow leaf wallpaper and by sales pitches that this is a landmark or a gateway.

There seems to be a belief at City Hall that the public wants things to stay exactly as they are. If you had asked us, you might have found that Quinpool-area neighbourhoods are in favour of developing Quinpool to the next level: perhaps as a continuous, five-storey, mixed-use, urban high street from Robie to Oxford. That’s a higher ambition than what we’re being presented with here.


(These comments were presented to HRM Council at the January 16 public hearing.)

Steve Parcell / 16 Jan. 2018