HRM Council Approves Carbon Bombs for Carlton Block

On January 23 HRM Council voted to give the Dexel / Lawen development even more benefit but still without any public benefit in exchange. For almost a decade HRM Council and staff ignored public concerns about the Lawen and the Rouvalis families’ two projects and refused requests that the four towers be considered together. Citizens support the need for development and density but want better options. Now the combined impact on the existing/future affordability, climate, traffic, community, heritage, wind, shadow, noise etc. will only be understood in real time. HRM made no attempt to balance the private, for-profit interests of the developer with societal needs.  The HRM public hearing recording begins at 8:08 & the citizen speakers at 8:34 -Its worth the watch.  See details below the video.

Do HRM Council and staff fib or simply not “get” the right to negotiate for public benefit under a development agreement? Do they fib or simply not “get” the impact of upfront carbon? demolition? citizen displacement? better options?  Or do developers and the old guard hold such sway with city fathers that citizens are meant to sit there and take it? Time to fix that.

HRM’s approval for their two 31+ storey towers’ gives the developer extra height, extra bulk and floor area and allows the towers to be closer together.  In exchange the developer will destroy the Spring Garden Road buildings pictured below. This includes 5950 Spring Garden Road, is a heritage house attached to 1494 Carlton Street the former home of Margaret Marshall that the developer had HRM deregister so it could also be demolished.

The two development proposals from the Rouvalis and Lawen families began almost a decade ago. In that time hundreds of citizens attended meetings, wrote letters and reports, signed petitions, made models and renderings and went to public hearings with the intention that Council would look for better balance between public and private interests. Instead at every step HRM staff worked with the developer to change the rules to match the proposals. Now the Carlton Block will have 4 massive towers.

Unbelievably during the hearing some Councillors mentioned that the public are more accepting of these proposals because fewer people come to speak at public hearings. Thank you to the many who persisted, who wrote or who came to speak up for Halifax and urge Councillors to show it some love! Sadly they’re tin men.

(To see Dexel’s development together with Rouvalis’ 29 & 30-storey towers scroll to the bottom.) 

History of these Developer Agreement Applications:  Before covid and before the Centre Plan, two developer families submitted development agreement applications for four towers (16 & 30 storeys and 22 & 24 storeys) on the Carlton Block. Development agreements are premised on the city allowing breach of the as-of-right rules in exchange for public benefits. The benefits have to be public and proportional to the benefits the developer receives. Time passed and the developers’ proposals increased the size of the towers they hope to build. What the Lawen/Dexel developer received at the public hearing further changed planning regulations for even more height, closer towers, greater Floor Area Ratio w/o any changes to what HRM received in exchange. 

Public Benefit:  There is no evidence that public benefit offered is commensurate with what the developer is destroying, with what the developer will receive or with what the community needs.  
Public Hearing: At the public hearing many people spoke up to help protect Halifax’s affordability, community, climate; to negotiate public amenity (daycare, grocery, affordable housing, family housing, greenspace); to stop the legacy of demolition and displacement; and to view the past as a lesson for the future.  They wanted the city to say no and negotiate for a better outcome for society.

    1. Development agreements are premised on the city allowing breach of the as-of-right rules in exchange for public benefits. The benefits have to be public and proportional to the benefits the developer receives.There is no evidence that public benefit is being offered or that it is commensurate with what the developer is destroying, with what the developer will receive or with what the community needs. 
    2. According to the Elizabeth Fry Society, HRM issued over 200 demolition permits and 300 rennoviction permits in 2023 alone. Together these four towers will result in the demolition of 10-14 buildings, a floor area equivalent to a 12-storey apartment building. If approved the Dexel Towers will destroy 7 or 8 buildings in a walkable, vibrant block on Spring Garden Road. When hundreds of citizens are living in tents and hundreds of people are moving to our city you must not permit the destruction of existing affordable housing or commercial space that can never be replaced. 
    3. With a labour and materials shortage it is unknown when new units will be built. You know these new units will be much more expensive. For years these developers have asked for and have received ever increasing building height/mass and other concessions; why is there is no provision for a percentage of affordable units? 
    4. HRM can set a time limit on how long the developer has to start or complete the project regardless of what gets approved. Instead of ’the usual’ 5 years to start, or substantially start, the project, the time limits could be shortened. For example, if housing is seen as urgently needed, a time limit of one or two years could be set to make a substantial start.
    5. Density is important but needs to be at the right height and concentration. If approved, the Dexel’s two 31+-storey towers next to Rouvalis’ already approved 29 & 30-storey towers will have a mass about 25 – 30% larger than the Nova Centre. Or equal to four ‘Fenwicks’ in less than a block. Public consultations never showed or considered the four towers together. The cumulative impact of this level of intense development has not been considered; it’s unnecessary & overly harmful. And it looms over the Carlton Street Heritage streetscape.
    6. What is cumulative impact of adding ~900 cars to the block or the effect of moving hundreds of cars in and out of narrow driveways between designated Heritage buildings? The argument that density offsets transportation costs and emissions doesn’t follow when this number of cars are being added. Moreover, the upfront carbon GHG from the materials used for building these developments are equivalent to the emissions of about 9497 passenger vehicles. 
    7. Why aren’t you prioritizing building approvals and permits on available empty or under-utilized land before considering sites that require demolitions? What about St Pat’s, St Pat’s Alexandra, Bloomfield, Cogswell, Shannon Park?
    8. The many add-ons, extensions and modifications the buildings in this block already demonstrates the flexibility of Halifax buildings. Why aren’t you protecting and promoting this form of infill or gentle density instead of permitting its destructions? It is better for economics, reducing GHGs and protecting existing buildings.
    9. HRM citizens supported a 3% increase in property taxes for climate change action. Highrise construction uses a disproportionally greater amount of energy intensive materials such as cement, steel, aluminum and glass.This makes their climate impact from upfront emissions immediately and disproportionately worse than lower rise buildings. A preliminary analysis of CO2e from the construction of the four towers is 31,000T CO2e. That’s about the same amount as 9,497 passenger vehicles. The demolition of the buildings will emit approximately 160T CO2e. 
    10. Development Options Halifax modelled a 9-storey infill that would emit 40% less CO2e per square foot than the four towers. The model would have 550 units plus commercial or 650 units without commercial space. Studies support this research and show that the best height for density and for the climate is between 4-6 storeys.
    11. Killam Properties has demonstrated on the same street that this scale towers are unnecessary. On the north end of Carlton St. they withdrew their approved 18-storey application and will instead build two smaller apartment buildings, 6 and 8-storeys. This is faster, cheaper, less destructive and presumably will make Killam Properties money.
    12. Neighbourhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings are proven to perform better than districts with larger, newer structures when tested on a range of economic, social and environmental outcomes. That’s why people, especially younger ones, are drawn to these neighbourhoods. That’s also why Jane Jacobs is still an icon and we celebrate her legacy with Jane’s Walks.
    13. Please respect the efforts of hundreds of citizens who have written, attended public consultations, signed petitions and supported a better process and better options. We need developments that offer real public benefit, that protect the climate and that keep and add to affordable housing stock. 

Development Options Halifax’s model shows the two 31+ storey Dexel towers (yellow) and 29 & 30-storey Rouvalis towers (peach) together. The white dashed line shows an outline of the Nova Centre for comparison.

 For more information on these developments please see: