Failed Public Consultation Case Study #11: Joan Fraser’s North/Oxford St Neighbourhood Group

The following is an account by Halifax resident Pat White.
For a period of seven years the late Joan Fraser and I worked along with many others as part of a community group in the Oxford/North Street area with HRM staff to try and  “negotiate” a good outcome for a development at the site of the former Dalhousie University nurses residence, Ardmore Hall and in more recent years a 44-unit apartment building, and two adjoining properties (NSSite Plan Approval Application #23178). These are three separate lots that will have to be consolidated. The property owner and developer is Mythos.
All the time and effort involved with this development over the years has come to a most dissatisfactory end. If I knew that

North and Oxford Street, site of demolished Armore Hall, forty-four affordable housing units demolished along with blooming Magnolia tree. Photo-Stephen Archibald

because of the long-awaited Center Plan, New city councilors (2016) and zero response from our city councilor would lead to the developer getting more than he asked for, I might have reconsidered bothering to spend any time to preserve our lovely neighborhood.

At the beginning the developer was offered 6 storeys even though he was only allowed 4 under the pre-Centre Plan rules. The development was then rejected for 7 storeys, but next the developer tried to get 9. He basically was advised by staff to hold off until the Center Plan would be adopted and he would get what he wanted. This development was then deferred and grandfathered in along with 17 other properties waiting on the Center Plan. The community members knew nothing about this at the time and did not receive any update or notification.

Under the Centre Plan the 3 properties mentioned were re-zoned and became part of a designated “ Corridor” to get more height. Members of our group made calls, sent e-mails and finally got a response stating it was only a preliminary notion, not to worry. Later it became the reality despite HRM staff knowing the neighbourhood had major concerns. No response from our councilor! 

Now the developer is constructing a 7 storey building completely filling the lot corner to corner to corner with limited setbacks. As this property is currently part of the Chebucto Corrider under  part A centre plan approved by Council this design exceeds the height guidelines 0f 6 storeys allowed under the Chebucto Corridor, so how did this very large dense building get Planning’s go ahead?

The HRM website is very difficult to find information, broken links, no logic on how the information is being organized for the public. The community stayed engaged frequently but got ignored completely. No responses from our city councillor  We do not believe our community’s concerns were documented or even heard.

The planning department and the city councilors have made it so easy for the developers to get what they want. It has come down to Tax dollars and no recourse for the general public. The Willow tree proposed building, Wellington development – 1200 signed petitions, Bloomfield development – 1700 signed petitions. Our development on North and Oxford, over 30 people evicted during covid with the developer not going through the proper channels. Again, no response from the city councilor!

The one only response we got from Lyndell Smith was” I’m not up to date with the Bylaws.”

We as a group participated in the public process and tried to keep updated as much as possible . There seems to be a lot of communication/meetings between HRM planning Dept and the developers. We as a group have no easy way of keeping up with all the amendments, variances and decision making. It seems like we don’t exist. I had to find out what was going on from the tenants of the building that they were being kicked out of their affordable housing units and demolishing starts in 4 months. No notice from HRM. 

I found documentation on a meeting that the Design Advisory Committee had regarding the developer applying for a level 3 site. Apparently there is a Center Plan formula! This meeting was held in March, 2020. In attendance were the committee, city councilors, members of the planning dept. An architect and the developer. No public presence! No one from our community who were actively trying to stay engaged was notified.

I truly believe there is a failure of process. The developer is up to date, receives correspondence from all departments, gets what they want and more. The public who has concerns about their community are constantly left out. When we citizens try to get answers from the powers to be, it’s a dead end.

The developer even began demolition of the property while it was still occupied by a tenant. Councillors said they’d never heard of such a thing and acted surprised even though a similar situation had happened a few years back on Young Avenue where a developer started to demolish an occupied building. How does HRM’s interest in the protection of citizens balance compared with the actions of developers?

Once the Centre Plan was passed and a building permit issues members of our community appealed the decision at a virtual meeting. As per the late Joan Fraser’s communication:

“As it stands developers are being allowed to build to a height of 20 metres not necessarily including a penthouse and infrastructure in low rise residential neighbourhoods. This means that a large building will loom over low rise residential communities. The transition requirement is met by allowing the developer to use an assumed height of 11 metres at the street wall height when in reality there is a 20 metre high building sitting on the lot which is in clear conflict with all the fine words on maintenance of the integrity of the existing community. The project at north and oxford should not be allowed to proceed until these issues are resolved and the residents have been fully informed.

The current proposal will introduce a blind access from Seaforth st to Oxford st with a very large building blocking the view. Currently a driver can see the traffic on Oxford st from Seaforth st thru the open fence.

Allowing a 20 metre + structure corner to corner to corner on this lot as proposed destroys the sense of community which currently exists in this low rise residential area. This lot is classified as Level 111 – height from 20 metres and up allowable. It should be classified as Level 11 – not sure of metres – but allows 6 levels of height.”

The developer met all the requirements of the bylaws to move ahead because the Centre Plan was changed to match his development. Our appeal was over before it started. Citizens had 5 minutes each to talk. The city planner talked for 15 minutes to the board about all our concerns. We had nothing left to say! The citizens lost the appeal process because the councillors found that the building met the regulations. Isn’t it sad and ironic that these were mostly the same councillors who had approved the changes of the regulations for this area under the Centre Plan, gone against what citizens’ wanted but now claim to be powerless because the development matches the rules?

The community always wanted a building, something that would fit in our neighborhood. We as a group have nowhere to turn. Very frustrating to say the least. The Center Plan is flawed.The system is also flawed. The new laws make it easy for the developer. Terrible communication from staff and councillors! planning staff and council did not respect the wishes of the community for a less intrusive development, council says-but those are the rules- and takes no responsibility. Our community was negotiating in good faith for a long time for something more acceptable. The city threw that out along with 44 affordable housing units.

My recommendation is: Our groups which are few, should be notified in writing on ANY changes made that has an effect on development in our neighborhood.  Be registered with HRM as a group and have consistent up to date information. And city staff and council must be responsive to the in-put of citizens. We would have been willing to compromise, but we were forced to just accept the developers’ plan with none of our concerns or input being respected.

Sincerely, Pat White, Seaforth Street, Halifax, NS