Send Your Comments to Help Make the Halifax Common Plan Better!

Dear Friends,

HRM is continuing its ‘public consultation’ on the Halifax Common draft plan via an on-line survey or comments until February 28, 2023.  That’s because Mayor Savage and HRM Council supported HRM’s Community Economic Development standing committee’s excellent recommendation in January 2022 to bring it back to the public for feedback. (view video of committee meeting

This plan is critical to the future of the Halifax Common.

That’s why we want HRM staff to do more than an online survey or emailed comments. That’s no substitute for public presentations and engagement. We are also very concerned that HRM has not consulted with the public about the Wanderers Block and that it is engaging in side deals.

Please email commonplan@halifax.ca to ask for actual public presentation(s) of the revised document followed with opportunities for public feedback. And to also ask that there be public consultation on the Wanderers Block. In the meantime, below are draft notes you can use to help you to write more detailed comments to HRM.

We’ve identified four themes we believe are most important based on what the public asked for. Each of these themes has a section under concerns and then feedback to HRM staff.
Themes
1. Protect the Whole Halifax Common, both public and private, with legislative policies and protection

2. Plan For the Whole Halifax Common & Reclaiming and Expanding Public Leisure Space

3.  Respect the Public’s Role in Shaping the Common

4. Draft Plan is 500pp with a Vision, Purpose, Policy Process; it needs Public Presentation & Consultation (along with executive summary, timelines, budgets and many details)

Please do a quick scan or deep dive and then either:
1. email your Feedback directly to: commonplan@halifax.ca

For example: ask that there be an actual public presentation(s) of the document followed with opportunities for feedback not just an on-line survey.
or…
2. complete an HRM online survey found here.

Remember the sections in green below under feedback are the quickest way to help with ideas on how to make the plan better

Themes, concerns, feedback

1. Theme: Protect the Whole Halifax Common, both public and private, with legislative policies and protection

1. FHC concerns:

  • Although this new document will replace the 1994 Halifax Common Plan it does state that it is not a Plan. 
  • There is little comment and no commitment to legally-enforceable protection for the Halifax Common within the document. 
  • The 1763 Grant is a form of legal protection; it results in a ‘public trust’ but the nature of the trust is not clear as governments have actively participated in the occupation of the Common for centuries. 
  • There seems to be a consensus that the Grant means HRM may not build on the Common unless specifically authorized by an act of the Legislature (hence the acts to authorize the Oval and the swimming pool). But it is not clear what else the Grant might imply. For example HRM asked to build one building for its aquatic centre parallel to Cogswell but HRM is in the process of building two buildings, approximately 40% larger and in a different location than proposed to the public and NS Legislature. 
  • A real concern is, can HRM allow there to be a sale of Common land or a lease? This has happened but remains unchallenged/untested. 
  • HRM has proposed that the Halifax Common become a designated cultural landscape but has no details. 

1. For Writing Your Feedback to HRM:

a. The Halifax Common Master Plan must include policies and protection for the entire Halifax Common. This is urgent. We cannot support a plan that does not undertake immediate action towards this protection and preservation of all open publicly accessible land.
 
b. Amend the HRM Charter via the provincial Legislature to define what Council is permitted to do with the Common, and what processes to follow. There are already such provisions in the HRM Charter regarding the Dartmouth Common.
 
c. Incorporate all of the final Common Plan into the Municipal Planning Strategy. This would be a useful step, but one HRM Council could adjust after a public hearing. Its efficacy is that any planning decisions affecting the Common would need to accord with what is in the MPS, and some decisions could be appealed to the UARB and tested by that standard.
 
d. Consider creating a ‘board of trustees’ established specifically for the Common, with a requirement for Council not to make decisions about the Common without consulting the trustees; or the trustees could be the entity empowered to make the decisions. Such boards are potentially useful, but much would turn on the specifics of their mandate, and the composition of the board. These specifics and the board composition and time frame for serving on the board should be vetted by the public.
 
e. Clarify details on designation of the Halifax Common as a cultural landscape.
 
 

2. Theme: Plan For the Whole Halifax Common & Reclaim / Expand Public Leisure Space

2. FHC concerns:

  • The Plan is strong on intentions but weak on action. The language used in the 80+ listed actions is overwhelmingly passive with terms such as…’study’, ‘review’, ‘explore’. There are few statements leading to real outcomes.  
  • Citizens strongly support that we plan for the entire Common, and recapture and not give up Common land in the 1994 Plan and during more recent consultation beginning in 2017 but the draft document is weak on such commitments. 
  • Caution: HRM is slipping more and more into referring to “parks” and “parkland” not the “Common.” But the 240 acres granted ’to an for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common forever’ and is not a park.
  • There is a strong public desire for maximizing Green Space and minimizing built infrastructure; for planting trees and protecting the vast openness of the lawn of the North / Central Common but no actions towards this.

2. For Writing Your Feedback to HRM:

a. Be Bold! This Plan replaces the 1994 Master Plan, and so it must be a Plan for the entire Halifax Common as per the 1994 Plan and confirmed, supported, emphasized in more recent public consultations. And again as per the 1994 plan this document must take action to keep, re-capture and not give up further lands on the Halifax Common. 
 
b. The Plan needs clear language that gives direction. While not everything can be covered by a definite statement, there are many things that can be action items with definite outcomes. For example there over 80 actions but there is no real direction for specific outcomes.
 
c. Support the Policy Direction and give actions to preserve and reclaim the Halifax Common within a cohesive Common District including MOU with Capital Health and land use planning regulations. Include steps to:
  • maximize Green Space and openness, 
  • minimize built infrastructure, 
  • draw out a vision to connect existing and expand greenspace throughout the entire Common including the private and institutional lands. 
d. Municipal Open Space Management…protection…retention / enhancement / connected spaces / Plan to expand the green space within and beyond the exiting Common, for example including the Centennial Pool grounds and green routes to the Halifax Harbour, the NW Arm, Point Pleasant Park and Africville.
 
e. Keep land use as per original intent of Halifax Common being for all inhabitants. This needs better balance. 

 

3.  Theme: Respect the Public’s Role in Shaping the Common

3. FHC concerns:

  • There is a sharp disconnect between what the public say they want for the Common and the draft Plan.
  • Public input is not represented in HRM decisions. For example the initial privatization and now on-going deliberate privatization of the Wanderers Field.
  • HRM consultation needs to be for the entire Halifax Common. For example so far the Wanderers Block has not been included in the consultation process. [It includes: Natural History Museum, Bengal Lancers, HRM maintenance depot, Public Garden Greenhouses, Lawn Bowling Clubhouse and Green, Power House, QEII 8-storey parking garage, Wanderers Field] but in the meantime HRM is engaged in negotiations with SOME individual parcel users & leaving out others (Wanderers Lawn Bowlers).
  • HRM decisions are too often made in secret. For example the secret Oval sponsorship contract with fossil fuel utility for undisclosed amount and time period.
  • HRM decisions are too often not respectful of the public. For example there was no consultation on location, design of aquatic centre. It is substantially larger (2 buildings) and in a different location/orientation than HRM let on to the public and the provincial government.

3. For Writing Your Feedback to HRM:


a. Include the entire Wanderers Block in the Public Consultation – stop the side deals. This is a significant area of land that requires transparent, public and open process and must come back to the public.
 
b. Return the Wanderers Field to amateur players as per the 2017 staff report; move the private stadium to a better location; drop the language about a premiere sports venue
 
c. Move the HRM Storage Depot asap (as per the 1994 Plan and recent public input)
 
d. Develop policies specific to the Halifax Common for corporate sponsorship, advertising, public art, lighting. The objectives should be to retain, regain the sense of a cohesive space with the least amount of signage, installation or infrastructure.
 
4. Theme: Draft Plan: Plan = Vision, Purpose, Policy Process needs Public Presentation & Consultation (along with executive summary, timelines, budgets and many details)


4. FHC concerns:

  • The Plan is massive (500pp.) with nice photos, maps, illustrations but it is not easily readable or understood and contains a lot of wish-language and jargon. It is inherently vague.
  • Compared with the public input or the1994 Halifax Common Plan there are many omissions and gaps.
  • The Plan is not really a plan and is too unresponsive to the public requests.
  • So far, there is no public disclosure of the online survey responses or email comments.

4. For Writing Your Feedback to HRM:

a. There needs to be an actual public presentation(s) of the document followed with public engagement / feedback not just an on-line survey. 
 
b. If the Plan is to be understood by the public, staff and Council it needs to be condensed and tightened. It requires an executive summary. It need clear language with less jargon and less verbiage. There must be a better synthesis of the purpose of the document, its specific goals, objectives, outcomes and deliverables with a timeline. These should clearly connect the public consultation key findings with the Guiding Principles and Policy Directions. While attractive in its layout the document is thin on how it will lead to outcomes.
 
For comparison see the current new Boston Common Master Plan [PDF]
 
c. The document needs to have a stated review time frame (3-5 years) for when the Plan returns to the public for re-evaluation and input.
 
d. The document needs to propose priorities (i.e. for deciding improvement or changes) and how these are to be established
 
e. The document needs to have suggested budget lines. 
 
f. Community Standing Committees could work on specific policy gaps (public art policy, lighting, noise, green network). Many experienced citizens could engage if they felt their input mattered.
 
g. As per FHC’s first Theme, the Plan must not only identify long-term land-use strategies it must address protection and identify a way for desired land-use strategies to be codified as policy and basis for all future decisions.