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Halifax council approves first package of Centre Plan

HALIFAX, N.S. —

The first part of a plan to regulate development and land use within the regional centre area of Halifax Regional Municipality finally made its way past council Wednesday.

In a public council meeting that had convened Tuesday evening, council voted 13-0 to accept the Centre Plan motion that called for directing development to areas where it can best be handled, providing protections for heritage properties and for well-established neighbourhoods.

“We have had a great deal of conversation ... with many people over the last number of years,” Mayor Mike Savage said at the end of the lengthy two-day meeting. After a number of drafts, he said Package A of the plan was finally approved unanimously.

The roots of the Centre Plan idea date back six years or more.

Some of the contentious issues raised in the public hearings, including the question of incentives for developers to include affordable units in their building proposals and density issues at specific properties, were set aside to be revisited in Package B of the Centre Plan, which should come to council next September.

Coun. Matt Whitman (Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets) moved that the entire Package A discussion be deferred until sometime in November so that the kinks raised in the public hearing could be worked out. That motion failed by a 9-4 vote.

Shawn Cleary (Halifax West-Armdale) said every single point that was brought up in the public meeting did not have to be addressed by council.

“It’s actually our job to hear the public, to filter that, to understand what’s valid, what’s significant, and then we bring motions forward,” he said.

Cleary said the plan will satisfy a desire to have people live, shop and play in the same area. He said the new regulation will provide certainty, certainty for builders and property owners who can move forward and say “I know what I can do here.”

Coun. Richard Zurawski (Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park) applied his climate change lens to the plan.

“I’m looking at this from the perspective of what’s happened in the last last week and a half with Dorian coming through,” Zurawski said, wondering if the plan would be adaptable enough for the changing climate and what that will mean to the municipality.

A long time in the making

The Centre Plan draft document was crafted after considerable feedback received through an extensive public engagement program, along with input and guidance from the community design advisory committee and regional council. Municipal staff, particularly the planning and development department, committed to modernize development rules to reflect the goals residents have for their communities.

A draft plan was released in 2016 and improvements to that draft were shaped by what the community identified as important.

The current plan includes stronger protection for residential neighbourhoods and heritage properties, designs to minimize the impact of development on existing communities and regulations to balance the distribution of housing and population density. The plan includes direction on building heights, lots, floor-space ratio and environmental impacts.

The Package A policies and land-use bylaws pertain to areas of greatest anticipated change, including five urban centres, corridors, residential zones that encompass neighbourhoods with a concentration of multi-unit buildings and future growth areas.

The Centre Plan had envisioned a formula for fees a developer would have to pay in exchange for extra height allowances. The money would be kept in reserve and meted out in grants to co-op housing projects and non-profit housing groups. Developers said at Tuesday’s public hearing that such a plan would hurt smaller developers. Other proposals included giving developers extra height allowances in exchange for designated numbers of affordable housing units and the idea of upfront fees for developers weren’t popular, either. Finalization of the affordable housing portion of the plan was pushed forward to the B package.

The plan also called for the establishment of a new Regional Centre Community Council to review, address and deal with matters relating to appeals of site plans and variances and land use bylaw amendments over lands covered by Package A of the plan. Regional council voted to remove the lands within Package A from the jurisdictional authority of the Halifax Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee, the Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council, and the Halifax and West Community Council.

That part of the Centre Plan was voted on separately from the remainder at the behest of Coun. David Hendsbee (Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore), who did not agree with the provision. The new Regional Centre Community Council proposal was approved in an 8-5 vote.

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