Businesses on Quinpool Road are at a Turning Point
Quinpool Road has become a traffic sewer. Its main purpose is to move rush-hour traffic through this part of the city as quickly and painlessly as possible. Morning and evening, every time there’s a flush, … well, you know. This flushing function is at odds with Quinpool’s traditional, slower-moving role as a local shopping street. Quinpool serves thousands of residents from the neighbourhoods to its north and south, arriving on foot or by bicycle. But the future of the street is now on a knife edge, due to increasing traffic pressure and the prospect of unplanned, isolated high-rise developments between Robie and Oxford.
Quinpool is an Urban Shopping Street
At one time, Quinpool Road was one of many neighbourhood-centred, mixed commercial-institutional streets, including Windsor Street, Gottingen Street, and lower Barrington Street. Some were served by streetcars that contributed to the hustle and bustle of local residents on their way home, to school, to work, or out for the evening.
That version of Quinpool Road had much in common with West 4th in Vancouver, Bank Street in Ottawa, Rue St Denis in Montreal, and Toronto’s Queen Street East and West. Those streets still accommodate small businesses on narrow lots, packed together in long blocks. Each shop has its own entry and display window. Together, they have great variety and encourage pedestrian activity. The more doorways on a block, the more intense the street life. Most of these businesses are proprietor-owned. An urban shopping street thrives when all of these characteristics are present. The more successful parts of Quinpool Road still have these qualities.
Other parts of Quinpool have already been eroded. Compare the urban shopping street above to the long, blank facade of Quinpool Centre and the suburban fast-food parking lots near Harvard:
Pressures from High-rise Residential Development
The peninsula’s population density is gradually increasing, as it should. This means that Quinpool Road and the neighbourhoods along it will face changes. If new developments are done well, they will actually improve the street for local businesses and become a more active destination for local residents. At present, the prospects for such an outcome are not good.
So far, city hall has approved one new development in the Quinpool area:
- Doug Reid: The Keep: 8 storeys (Quinpool and Vernon) – under construction
Developers are proposing eight others:
- Armco: 29 storeys (Quinpool and Robie)
- Westwood: 25 storeys (Robie, north of Quinpool)
- Westwood: 11 storeys (former Ben’s Bakery site on Quinpool)
- Dexel: 14 storeys (Robie, south of Quinpool)
- Dexel: 10 storeys (currently McDonald’s and Fitness FX, Quinpool and Harvard)
- Facade Investments: 11 storeys (Quinpool, west of Preston) – proposed
- HRM: St. Pat’s High School site: 15 storeys (Quinpool-Windsor-Quingate)
- Nanco Group: Oxford Theatre (Quinpool and Oxford) – property acquired; no proposal yet
These proposed developments are much larger than the city’s by-laws permit, so the developers have asked for exceptional approval. Their projects are being considered separately, without being guided by the larger urban principles in Halifax’s Land Use By-Law and Municipal Planning Strategy. Practically speaking, there is no plan for this part of the city.
Developers George Armoyan (Armco) and Danny Chedrawe (Westwood) claim that their 29-storey and 25-storey developments at Robie and Quinpool (below) would benefit businesses along Quinpool, as more people would live in the area. This narrow view needs to consider other important issues: They would generate more vehicular traffic. They would put upward pressure on commercial property values, taxes, and rents along Quinpool. We believe they would also be detrimental to Quinpool as an urban shopping street, as their high density and isolation would lead to suburban arterial-road development in the area. Only you can estimate their impact on your business. Don’t take their word for it; scrutinize their proposals.
Quinpool Should Remain an Urban Shopping Street
High-rise residential development on Quinpool would increase commercial property values, leading to higher property taxes and higher rents. This would lead to land speculation, with out-of-province buyers assembling rows of small properties for building larger stores. Locally-owned businesses would be replaced by national franchises, big-box stores, and adjacent parking lots. Profits would leave the province. Large national chains rely on high volume by attracting vehicular customers from farther away. That’s a suburban arterial-road model, not an urban shopping street. On Quinpool we would see fewer businesses, fewer street entrances, fewer shop windows, wider storefronts, more blank facades, less variety, more parking lots, more vehicles, and fewer pedestrians.
Smaller-scale, mid-rise residential development (6–8 storeys) along Quinpool is a much better option. With support from residents and business owners, it could retain the current pattern of local businesses at street level.
As local residents, this is what we recommend to support local businesses along Quinpool Road:
- Oppose the Armco and Westwood proposals at Robie and Quinpool by writing to city hall: email@example.com.
- Express your concerns to the Quinpool Road Mainstreet District Association (Karla Nicholson, General Manager): firstname.lastname@example.org or 902-209-2210.
- Get involved in HRM’s current Centre Plan discussions: This plan will guide future development on the Halifax peninsula and in downtown Dartmouth.
- Support developments with commercial frontages that follow Quinpool’s urban shopping street model: many small businesses, side by side.
- Oppose high-density, high-rise buildings in the Quinpool area. Instead, support mid-rise (6–8 storeys), mixed residential-commercial, street-oriented developments. For an example of what might be achieved here, have a look at CBC’s report on what a local business association is doing to upgrade Main Street in Dartmouth.
To learn more about the Robie/Quinpool proposals and the city’s current development process:
J. Grant Wanzel / 3 May 2016