At HRM’s September 17 Public Information Meeting about the proposed 29-storey Armco Tower at 6009–6017 Quinpool Road, members of the audience (including the Willow Tree Group) were asked for questions. Do we have questions!
The Municipal Government Act allows HRM to amend the Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-Laws where circumstances can be shown to have changed since the MPS and LUB were approved. What evidence has or will the developer be required to submit to demonstrate that circumstances have changed to such an extent that it would warrant increasing the allowable height on this site by more than double?
I recently learned of a situation where a woman inherited a house in the north end of Halifax that had been converted into two flats about nine years ago. Before selling the property she asked the city if the two flats are legal and was told that they are not. The reason? The city considers the lot to be too small for two flats, i.e., that this would be too much density. As a result, she must convert the building back into a single family home before selling it. How can a city that will not allow the conversion of a house into two flats even consider a developer’s proposal with a density of 597 persons per acre? Are there different rules for different people?
The set of initiatives that includes the St Pat’s site, the Westwood application, and the Armoyan/Fares application (18966) will have significant collateral impacts. Those who favour the enhanced business opportunities released by 18966 will see these initiatives as beneficial. By the same token, those who support increasing the residential population of the peninsula will be buoyed up by the 448 additional persons promised by 18966. But collateral damages will also follow. Assessments will increase. Taxes will increase and rents will increase. Small businesses will have even greater difficulty. Traffic along the Robie, Quinpool, and Windsor “corridors” will increase significantly. And the neighbourhood’s stock of affordable rental housing, irreplaceable but already at risk from condo converters and upgraders, will be even further jeopardized.
That being the case, what portion of the roughly $15 million “lift” that will accrue to 18966 as a direct result of all the concessions you are requesting from the City will be returned to the City for the purposes of securing, upgrading, and adding to the neighbourhood’s stock of affordable market and non-market rental housing?
J. Grant Wanzel
The Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-law are the core documents that guide planning decisions in Halifax. They were developed through public consultation and approved by HRM Council. By laying out the rules for everyone, these documents should expedite development and minimize negotiations with individual developers.
In June 2014 the HRM staff report noted that this proposed development on Quinpool does not meet the city’s requirements for height, building massing, setbacks from adjacent properties, population density, landscaped open space, or parking. In fact, it doesn’t even try to do so. In height, it’s 2–7 times higher than what’s permitted. In population density, it’s more than four times greater. In landscaped open space, it provides only 13% of what’s required.
When applying for a development agreement to amend the Land Use By-law, the onus is on the developer to show that circumstances have changed significantly to warrant an amendment. As far as we’re aware, this hasn’t been done. HRM staff raised a red flag about this in their initial review of the proposal:
Amendments to the Municipal Planning Strategy 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 amendments, in particular, require significant justification to be considered.
So far, there has been no justification by either the developer or the city, so it’s not clear why the public is being asked to consider this proposal. Is no one willing or able to write something down? If all we have are vague words in the air about densifying the peninsula, that’s not good enough. Much more would be needed to justify such a blatant disregard for the city’s core planning documents.
My question is for the developer. It’s clear that this development is not intended for the public good, so it would be helpful for us to know what you were intending. Let me list five options, to see if they apply:
- gaining an immediate $15 million profit for your company if the city grants you the development rights for this project
- proposing something outlandish and expecting to be haggled down to something less outlandish
- erecting a monument to your company
- squeezing out smaller developers and builders who might want to build smaller projects elsewhere on Quinpool
- capitalizing on insider economic information that could be shared with the city and the rest of us
On the other hand, if your intentions are none of the above, we would be interested to learn what they are.
1. The Halifax Common was designated as a historic site under the City Charter in 1971. The 1994 Halifax Common Plan made no mention that high-rises might encircle the Common, as height restrictions were in place at that time; however, it does emphasize the improvement of the Halifax Common and its surroundings. It mentions: special treatment of streetscapes; trees with large canopies; broad views and a sense of openness (rather than the more restrictive notion of view planes); historic houses and places; lands and buildings that are attractive to people at ground level; pedestrian linkages; and safe street crossings. Directions in the Halifax Common Plan were based on extensive public consultations that recognized the need for public open space, views to open space, and green space. These public values remain.
When introducing the site at Robie and Quinpool (on the edge of the Halifax Common), the HRM planners mentioned the Halifax Municipal Plan, the Regional Plan, and the Quinpool Road Commercial Area Plan. Why was there no mention of the 1994 Halifax Common Plan? Like the other plans, it was adopted by the City of Halifax as a policy document. How does the city intend to respect the 1994 Halifax Common Plan and prepare a master landscape design for the Halifax Common when large, inappropriate developments are being proposed one at a time around the edge of the Common? Approving these developments now would diminish future options in carrying out a master plan for the Halifax Common and would preclude proper discussion for a future Centre Plan.
2. The Robie-Quinpool area already has very strong winds caused by the existing towers. Why has the developer not provided any results of wind studies? Climate change will result in more extreme weather events, so this is a serious omission. The developer’s response that this will be done during the final design phase is not an acceptable answer. Wind studies should be done early in the design process, when height and massing are being considered. To ensure results of the highest possible standard, they should be commissioned independently by the city and paid for by the developer.
3. To understand the impact of this development on the North Common, we should know how many people use this area. HRM says that 30,000 people use the Oval in a relatively short season (10–12 weeks). Parks Canada estimates that 488,500 people visit Citadel Hill each year but only 155,000 enter Fort George. How many other people participate in organized recreational activities, leisure activities, events, and tournaments on the North Common? How many use it as a walking route? The total is probably several million per year.
4. How many pedestrians use the sidewalks along Robie Street and Quinpool Road? This area is heavily used and the existing tall buildings already have a negative impact on pedestrians due to wind, shade, and a general aesthetic deficiency at ground level.
5. The HRM planners stated that this area is changing, citing nearby tall buildings as reasons for considering this development agreement at Robie and Quinpool; however, those buildings either pre-date the current planning regulations or were approved as exceptions through a development agreement process. Accepting them as “precedents” underscores the problem with this current development agreement application, as it would set a precedent for future developments in the area, such as St Pat’s. Why should we have planning regulations and public meetings if developers can set the rules one building at a time?
6. Cumulative impact is a well-understood concept. What is the city doing to measure and mitigate the cumulative impact of multiple high-rises that are being proposed and built one at a time?
22 Sept. 2015