Letter to Mayor Savage – Stop Development Agreements

Your worship,
I am writing again to request that HRM Council consider a moratorium on development applications and on any individual changes to the MPS, pending completion of the Centre Plan and also of the Bonusing Study. As stated in my letter of July 2015 it is inappropriate to proceed with any more of these individual projects since they cumulatively have the effect of predetermining the outcome of larger planning exercises, thus rendering citizen involvement futile.

In case that you are unaware of how normalized development through the DA process has become, (above) is an inventory of Development Agreements applications recently provided by HRM. For example in 2014 there were 50, all without respecting existing regulations and ignoring citizens’ concerns. All Development Agreements are, by definition, a departure from established rules of the MPS and LUB, which offer a sense of stability to existing residents. In my experience, citizen comments and concerns expressed about the various individual DA applications are ignored.

To this I should add that the changes that Council has requested the Provincial government to make to the HRM Charter (regarding election expenses and for control of differential tax rates for commercial properties) are both inappropriate in themselves and indicative of the wrong set of priorities for alterations to the laws. If the Charter is to be amended, the priority focus should be on tools to control demolitions, on tools to promote affordable housing, and on correcting the deep flaws in the Density Bonusing system.

Regarding the moratorium, projects such as the call for proposals for the St Pat’s High School site, the proposed Development Agreements for the Willow Tree intersection, the Carlton St site at the block of Spring Garden Road immediately to the east of Robie St (Spring Garden West, so-called) and others are all highly problematic. They represent an intensification of use that is neither necessary nor desirable.

In particular, for those proposals that are on Halifax Common lands or adjacent to the Halifax Common, these are contrary to what the Common is meant to be. Furthermore such proposals do not respect the 1994 Halifax Common Plan adopted by Halifax. By considering these projects the Council is failing in its public duty to protect public rights and violating the public trust.
To this, I add that the use of Schedule Q in the north End is illegal. So far this has not gone to court as a litigated issue, but your legal and planning staff have been made aware over the last two years of the legal problem with how Schedule Q is being used. If you and Council have not been briefed on this, may I suggest you inquire about it. Projects that are being approved under Schedule Q are at risk of being stopped by court order if there is litigation.

Regarding the HRM Charter, there are precedents in other provinces for municipalities to be empowered to deal with demolitions, and to promote affordable housing. Of course there would be no necessity for seeking such tools in consideration of specific current cases (however important for the longer run) if the basic zoning were more appropriate, and were adhered to.

As a longtime observer of Council I have to say that I continue to be profoundly disappointed in the extent to which opportunities are missed to improve living conditions in HRM as a whole, and on the Peninsula in particular. In fact by permitting Development Agreements to be widely used to circumvent city planning regulations and by-laws HRM Council is having a long-term negative impact on many of our fellow citizens and the character of our home.

Howard Epstein,
Director, Friends of Halifax Common

June 9, 2016