Halifax Common Master Plan Approval Delayed by HRM Standing Committee

HRM’s Community and Economic Development Standing Committee met on Wednesday, Dec 8, and agreed to delay approving the Halifax Common Master Plan just released on Friday, December 3, 2021. FHC’s Howard Epstein and Alan Ruffman were among several speakers and concerned groups including the Halifax Lancers These speakers asked that the draft Plan not go forward to HRM Council until an appropriate review of the  lengthy (496 pp) document could take place. Thank you to the many who wrote to ask for the delay.

The Halifax Common grant in 1763 was for 235 acres " to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common, forever." This entire area was to be considered for planning purposes in the 1994 Halifax Common Plan.

The Halifax Common grant in 1763 was for 240 acres ” to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common, forever.” This entire area was to be considered for planning purposes in the 1994 Halifax Common Plan.

Howard Epstein, presented on behalf of FHC as follows:

Submission to HRM Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee, Re: Halifax Common Master Plan

Proposal—Friends of Halifax Common asks that the Committee refer the draft Master Plan back to HRM staff to conduct further public consultations and receive comments, over a period of at least two months. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. There have been numerous changes in the planning context since the last round of public consultations in June 2019. 
  2. The length of the document is substantial, several hundred pages, the public, this Committee, and the HRM Council all need time to read over the draft, think about it, and frame comments. 
  3. Upon a first review the draft Master Plan seems to be seriously flawed, although we appreciate much of the informed and positive language. See details below:

Changes in the Planning Context:  Since the draft Master Plan last was seen by the public (and at that time staff anticipated the draft Plan going to Council in late 2019): the Centre Plan has moved ahead; there has been construction of a parking garage on the Common, with another approved; there has been an extended contract for the use of the Wanderers Grounds by a commercial soccer club without public consultation; an aquatics centre has been budgeted for; the first of the Carlton Block development proposals has been approved; the Garrison Ground has become more established as a parking lot; and, the $2 billion Capital Health redevelopment of the QEII continues without public engagement.

These amount to physical changes, and to an accommodation of increased population on the Halifax Peninsula. We believe the public needs the opportunity to consider these factors in updated input to the draft Master Plan.

Insufficient Time for Review: Although the staff report is dated November 4, 2021 your Committee would only have had access shortly after noon on Friday, December 3, 2021-effectively 2.5 business days of notice. Most members of the public, the collective owners of the shared Halifax Common will not yet know of this document. 

Flaws in the Draft: An initial and very brief review of the draft Master Plan finds some examples as follows. Please note these are not prioritized or final.

  • It is not clear how the policies of the Master Plan will manifest as legal tools. That is, there is no call for Provincial legislation to govern the Halifax Common by way of amendments to the HRM Charter equivalent to those sections of the Charter that govern the Dartmouth Common. Nor is there any clear statement that the Plan be incorporated into the Municipal Planning Strategy.
  • The Master Plan is focused on only a limited portion of the Halifax Common. It is crucial to note that the Common that was granted to the Public extended to South Street, and includes land on which there are public buildings in the form of university and health system structures, as well as some purely private buildings along Spring Garden Road.
  • There is no dedication to bringing into public ownership any private lands which are part of the Common and that may become available.
  • There is no proposal to add to the Common to compensate for open land that has been lost.
  • There is no anchoring of the need for green space in reasonable objective measures matched to population projections. Indeed, some of what is seen as green space is either not available to the public (the Wanderers Grounds) or is of limited utility in this regard (Camp Hill Cemetery).

These points are made upon a quick preliminary review, and are not meant to identify a complete list of concerns.

For the Committee to pass on the draft Master Plan to the full Council would give the impression that the Committee had considered it and approved it, and was recommending it to the Council for adoption.

We hope that you will ask for sufficient time to fully read, understand and reflect on the document presented before you and ask that it come back to the citizens for presentation and consultation.

We believe these decisions would be in the best interests of the Halifax Common and those to whom it belongs.

Best Wishes,

Howard Epstein, Director,
for Friends of Halifax Common