Chronicle Herald: Group concerned with proposed central Halifax highrise developments

Peggy Cameron of Development Options Halifax stands at Robie and College streets on Mon., July 5, 2021. The group is concerned that two central Halifax mixed-use development proposals will negatively impact the historic Carlton Street neighbourhood. – Noushin Ziafati

Noushin Ziafati – July 6, 2021
An advocacy group says it’s concerned that a set of proposed highrise developments in central Halifax will negatively impact the historic Carlton Street neighbourhood and that Halifax Regional Municipality hasn’t been transparent in the approval processes for the buildings, which a local councillor adamantly denies. On June 23, Halifax regional council’s heritage advisory committee moved a proposed mixed-use development on lands fronting Robie, College and Carlton streets a step closer to approval.
The proposal, by developer Rovualis, calls for the relocation of an existing heritage building and another building with heritage value on College Street to the rear yards of 1452 and 1456 Carlton Street, as well as a mixed-use development consisting of a 29-storey plus penthouse tower and a 28-storey plus penthouse tower on College Street.
Peggy Cameron is a member of Development Options Halifax (DOH), a self- described citizens group championing transparency in urban development. She said that the proposed development is “very different now from what the public was first consulted on.”
Cameron said the new heights of the proposed development have increased to 28 and 29 storeys plus penthouses from an original proposal of 20 and 26 storeys.
Meanwhile, she said the development will be adjacent to a proposal from another developer, Dexel, for two towers originally proposed as 16 and 30 storeys, which have also been approved for up to 90 metres or 29 storeys plus penthouses.
“This is a unique historic area. It’s the only remaining older neighbourhood on the Halifax Common, it’s designated municipally, provincially and federally and the language from the federal designation is a rare, early Victorian streetscape,” Cameron said.
“And without it ever coming back to the public, the city has now moved the size
of these buildings to potentially have four 30-storey towers in that (Carlton Street)
block and in that area, so there’ll be other proposals that will come forward where developers will be looking for the same height in the area.”

But Coun. Waye Mason (Halifax South Downtown) said the original proposals for the two development projects that DOH is pointing to are outdated and not the ones that were before Halifax regional council at a public hearing in July 2019. He said council asked the developers to change those proposals to be more in line with the municipality’s Centre Plan before they were seriously considered.
“What (DOH) kept saying was in front of council was the original proposals that the developers and proponents had put in two or three years before that meeting,” Mason said.
“So what was in front of council when we had that public hearing was not the model (DOH) kept showing, the 3-D printed model and the original development proposals, because staff and council had decided those weren’t good enough and made them make a lot of changes.”
For the Dexel proposal, for example, Mason said the developer “came in and said they wanted an eight-storey mid-rise and then the (highrise) towers to start, but we didn’t give them that.”
“They have to do a three-storey podium on Spring Garden and four-storey on Robie and then they have to go up in point towers, so that is a better design,” he explained.
“More sunlight will get to Spring Garden Road because the towers are taller and
smaller, but more importantly, the mid-rise component, instead of being eight storeys, it’s three and four storeys, so it causes less shadow on the sidewalk walking down the street.”
However, Cameron said DOH believes the highrises contravene some policy considerations under HRM’s Regional Plan Policy CH-16 for development abutting heritage properties, including not unreasonably creating shadowing effects on public spaces and heritage resources, as well as complementing historic fabric and open space qualities of an existing streetscape.
“It’s almost like HRM is going after ginormous projects, they can only think of increased property taxes, but they’re not seeing advantages to working with what’s there,” she added.
Mason disagrees.
“You can’t call it creep. They’re building what was approved. The only problem is in this case, this particular set of advocates either didn’t understand what was approved or are misrepresenting what was approved,” he said.
“And what was approved changed dramatically from what the proponents asked for, because of the public engagement and because of the residents and because of what I heard from my neighbours that we change what’s allowed to be built to make it better. And so for them to come back with a proposal now that meets the changes we required because of public engagement and then (DOH to) say somehow there’s something wrong with that, it’s a little bit ludacris.”
The Rovualis development proposal will move forward to Halifax and West community council (HWCC) for rst reading possibly as early as next week, with a public hearing at HWCC likely to be held in August or early September, according to HRM spokesperson Brynn Budden.