Herald Counterpoint: St. Pat’s Site is Public Property

Published December 11, 2015
The St. Pat’s High School land belongs to the citizens. Unless citizens decide otherwise, that’s the way it should remain. But city staff, under direction from the Halifax mayor and council continue an invented process to sell off the site.  Why are they so stoked about the sale? They made the decision to sell without asking the owners (you and me). And since then, the process

The state of demolition of the former St. Pat’s High School as of Dec. 4. (INGRID BULMER / Staff)

The state of demolition of the former St. Pat’s High School as of Dec. 4. (INGRID BULMER / Staff)

has been rushed, ill-informed and inadequate.  The single goal is to predetermine the size and number of buildings the purchaser can profitably build. By proposing buildings with greater heights and densities than the existing Regional Municipal Plan, Land Use By-Laws and Quinpool Road Area Plans allow, the city has normalized the understanding that the upcoming Centre Plan will be precluded
Is there a compelling reason to sell off this
centrally located parcel of public land? Not according to a 2013 Stantec report commissioned by HRM.  It determined there’s enough approved land for Halifax to meet population growth for 25 years. And in the downtown alone, without the Cogswell Interchange, there are 20-plus blocks of empty building lots. Many of these have been waiting for new construction for decades.

So are there compelling reasons to keep the St. Pat’s land public? The city needs to prioritize filling up the empty land already on the peninsula before it makes more available. And it must respect existing plans until it completes the new Centre Plan. After the Paris climate change summit, that plan might even include regulations for becoming a sustainable city.

After all, becoming sustainable is why Halifax is pursuing a spacial planning policy for densification, so as to increase the population and reduce urban sprawl. The peninsula’s population is projected to grow by 15,000 to 25,000 by 2025. But to date, Halifax’s adoption of densification is mostly jingoism. There’s aspirational lingo about walkable community design, smart growth, public transit or all being green. But substance? Not so much.

Research tells us that experiencing nature every day helps urban dwellers be healthier and happier. As cities densify, people need better access to trees, plants and sky. Unfortunately, a negative result of densification, especially for lower socio-economic groups, is living in a less green environment.

So what are our mayor and council doing to accommodate growing pressure on existing green space or to create new green space?

Although the Halifax Common has almost none of the original 240 acres left as public open space, the city continues to pave it, to build on it and to let it slip away. This includes the former Queen Elizabeth High School site where the Common Roots Urban Farm is temporarily located.

More recently, the city has sold off lands associated with the former St. Pat’s Alexandra School and Bloomfield School. And although it’s not on the peninsula, the city sold off Halifax West. In each instance, the city arm-wrestled the owners (you and me) into giving up the property. But the disposal of public land from four schools has been a money-maker for the city.

The St. Pat’s site, next to the tiny Parker Street Park is a perfect opportunity to expand the city’s green space as an oasis for Quinpool Road. That’s an ideal way to land-bank it for future public use. With an extra 25,000 citizens living on the peninsula, there will be many public projects such as a public performance space, a cultural centre or a community centre. Who can know? In the meantime, the city has no need, no right and no permission to sell off the public’s property. Keep the St. Pat’s property public.
Peggy Cameron writes on behalf of Friends of Halifax Common