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Old Posted Sep 30, 2011, 9:42 PM
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The Centre Plan (Urban Core Regional Plan)

This is going to be huge if it goes through.

I am still reading the documents but I thought I should provide them to the forum. This is part of the Regional Plan Review and looking at the timeline after an extensive public consultation period this should be in place around 2013.

THIS WILL BECOME THE REGIONAL PLANNING STRATEGY FOR THE URBAN CORE (excluding Downtown Halifax)! ALL OF THE PENINSULA AND DARTMOUTH WITHIN THE CIRC!

Presentation

Staff Report
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  #2  
Old Posted Sep 30, 2011, 10:29 PM
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Some of the statistics are interesting. They note that 16% of residential development from 2006-2011 happened in the regional core. That is low compared to the target 25% but not too bad. I believe that the city can hit 25% relatively easily with projects like King's Wharf.

Downtown office for 2008-2011 was at only 4%, which is terrible, but that number does not include areas like Bayers Road. It may also exclude buildings where the owner is the tenant. I think this period was a low point for the downtown but it may not improve much if the city continues to promote suburban office parks while downtown projects have to content with NIMBYs.
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Old Posted Oct 1, 2011, 2:48 PM
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Yeah the results for office for Downtown were dismisal. We do have the NSP project which is a bit of an odd one because it shows up in stats as a loss (i.e increased vacancy in Scotia Square) without the positive bump for new office construction because it's owner occupied. The only office I can think of in the Downtown that's happened is the reno of the Free Mason Hall on Barrington, Chadrawe's small project on Spring Garden and that neat building on Agricola. Nothing significant has happened. I really think we need to put aside the 1950s idea of a Central Business District. Office won't drive the Downtown. It just can't anymore, not with the business parks offering free parking, cheaper rents, lower taxes and all sorts of municipal subsidies in the form of infrastructure improvements. Fixing those issues will be tough as it requires significant political change. The simpler way for Downtown to complete, is to get more and more people living there. When the Downtown has more people, office will then be attracted back, particularly high-end office that caters to firms looking for younger employees who want to be Downtown because the Downtown is fun and offers the lifestyle they're looking for. It seems to have worked in Toronto.
http://www.thestar.com/business/arti...oving-downtown
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Old Posted Oct 1, 2011, 2:55 PM
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I hope that the HRMbyDesign Centre Plan won't be too conservative with regard to building height limits. I wouldn't expect it to specify tall buildings throughout the central core but I hope that clearly states that building heights can be exceeded with a development agreement granted through HRM Council consideration of worthy developments. I think that this is stated in the current downtown HRMbyDesign (in other wording) but it wasn't emphasized - is this correct, or is this an incorrect memory of mine?
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Old Posted Oct 1, 2011, 3:05 PM
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Originally Posted by spaustin View Post
Yeah the results for office for Downtown were dismisal. We do have the NSP project which is a bit of an odd one because it shows up in stats as a loss (i.e increased vacancy in Scotia Square) without the positive bump for new office construction because it's owner occupied. The only office I can think of in the Downtown that's happened is the reno of the Free Mason Hall on Barrington, Chadrawe's small project on Spring Garden and that neat building on Agricola. Nothing significant has happened. I really think we need to put aside the 1950s idea of a Central Business District. Office won't drive the Downtown. It just can't anymore, not with the business parks offering free parking, cheaper rents, lower taxes and all sorts of municipal subsidies in the form of infrastructure improvements. Fixing those issues will be tough as it requires significant political change. The simpler way for Downtown to complete, is to get more and more people living there. When the Downtown has more people, office will then be attracted back, particularly high-end office that caters to firms looking for younger employees who want to be Downtown because the Downtown is fun and offers the lifestyle they're looking for. It seems to have worked in Toronto.
http://www.thestar.com/business/arti...oving-downtown
I completely agree. Promoting residential development downtown should eventually lead to more office demand.

In any case, I see no reason for not extending office development throughout the Halifax/Dartmouth central core. Having a mix of office and residential development throughout the urban core will give people more options on where to live and work. I am in favour of increasing density throughout the urban core, but have more of a residential/commercial mix at the same time. A more balanced approach might also help to reduce the requirements for a third harbour crossing (together with expanded metro transit).
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Old Posted Oct 1, 2011, 5:36 PM
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I had a chance to get to talk to some people I knew at HRM about this briefly; it sounds very interesting and I skimmed the report very quickly.

I share Fenwick's concern that this could go one of two ways for building height: either conservatively like HbD (which I hope doesn't happen) or it could push things a bit higher in strategic locations.

My hope is that with this - they will really look at transportation as a key asset to increasing the density in the core, not just of Halifax but the whole core. Streetcars, deployed as mechanisms to encourage densification and revitalization could be the key to building a more robust transit network. Imagine a streetcar running through Highfield Park to Burnside from the new Bridge Terminal, with much larger towering apartments there - feeding the streetcar. Or a streetcar running from NSIT through the north end (perhaps down Agricola) and into and back out of the core, with all the tallest buildings in the city in that area (because hey, if the HT says that's where tall buildings should go - who am I to disagree?).

This is a big project - we all should keep an eye on this and contribute not just to the discussion on here, but to the project in general.
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Old Posted Oct 1, 2011, 6:40 PM
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Peter Kelly mentioned some time ago, around the Waterside development, that there is a million square feet of commercial space approved and not being built. I don't think it is NIMBYism that is driving people out of the core. I think it is cost structure. The highest commercial property tax in Canada has to be a part of it.
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Old Posted Oct 1, 2011, 6:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spaustin View Post
I really think we need to put aside the 1950s idea of a Central Business District.
Definitely. Even if Halifax were to develop a great 1950s style CBD it would be a boring place. The low point for downtown Halifax was right after all the new 1980s office buildings went in.
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Old Posted Oct 2, 2011, 1:07 AM
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The low point for downtown Halifax was right after all the new 1980s office buildings went in.
I was just a kid during this time. Do you mean that office space was over-saturated? Or the way in which they were designed to allow employees to stay in that central area and ultimately taking away business from the rest of the core?
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Old Posted Oct 2, 2011, 2:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Jstaleness View Post
I was just a kid during this time. Do you mean that office space was over-saturated? Or the way in which they were designed to allow employees to stay in that central area and ultimately taking away business from the rest of the core?
I'm primarily talking about the idea that Downtown is, at heart, an office destination that everyone commutes to from the suburbs on expressways. Obviously the idea of a Central Business District has changed over time from the 1950-1960s ideal, but the notion that towering office skyscrapers are what makes or breaks Downtown has never really gone away. Office skyscrapers are great, but they're no longer the main driver for Downtown development. We need residential infill as a prerequisite to any significant office development. Office development is only one piece of a successful Downtown and a piece that can't exist without the rest. In the era of cheap gas and suburban business parks, office now follows rather than leads Downtown development.

Luckily, we have excellent fundamentals to build on. Our Downtown has a good mix of interesting shops, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, heritage/character and green space. This is true on both sides of the harbour actually, although admittedly rock-bottom in Downtown Dartmouth was a lot worse than in Halifax. Downtown is an attractive place where people want to live. We just need to provide the opportunity.
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Old Posted Oct 2, 2011, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by fenwick16 View Post
I hope that the HRMbyDesign Centre Plan won't be too conservative with regard to building height limits. I wouldn't expect it to specify tall buildings throughout the central core but I hope that clearly states that building heights can be exceeded with a development agreement granted through HRM Council consideration of worthy developments. I think that this is stated in the current downtown HRMbyDesign (in other wording) but it wasn't emphasized - is this correct, or is this an incorrect memory of mine?

I would hope that HRMxD has learned from the Downtown Plan and make some adjustments for the Centre Plan strategy. Height limits were too restrictive in key areas like the Cogswell St. interchange. The Centre Plan calls for densification along transit routes but this will likey mean midrise at best in areas like Young St. and Windmill Rd.

Mid-rise is likely 10-12 storeys as shown in their document. This would be too restrictive in areas like Young/Kempt Rd. and all of Dartmouth within the Centre Plan. In order to get the plan passed there will be pressure to keep heights down. I think some key areas should be left out of the height equation and marked as future growth opportunity sectors. If a developer wants to build in these areas now then they would go through the existing process.
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Old Posted Oct 2, 2011, 1:33 PM
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I wouldn't dismiss Dartmouth. I have a very strong feeling downtown Dartmouth will be a sea of cranes in a few years. I heard that the survey done by WDCL for their lot behind the Royal Bank got overwhelming support for the tallest of the massing concepts, which I believe was around 20 storeys. I believe once the view planes are corrected we will see a lot of development in the area.
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Old Posted Oct 2, 2011, 1:52 PM
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I agree with the comments about the 1980's feel of the downtown core. I lived in Halifax from 1979-89 and while the grouping of downtown skyscrapers was visually impressive, I always found Scotia Square and the banking cluster rather sterile and lifeless.

For the core to thrive, it has to feel alive. This means that people actually have to live in the area rather than commuting home to the suburbs after work. As residential infill occurs, shops and services will follow. I think that downtown Halifax (outside the central core) has made great strides in this regard in the last 10 years.

I agree with SPA that the concept of a central business district should be abandoned. Instead, business development should occur in a more distributed manner in other areas of the peninsula as well. This could be accompanied by residential and service developments in the adjacent neighbourhoods which would contribute to increased vibrancy throughout thr peninsula.

As an added benefit, more distributed growth might provide the pressure necessary to actually develop an LRT solution to peninsular public transit.

This could be a very important report when it is released....
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Old Posted Oct 2, 2011, 2:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Empire View Post
I would hope that HRMxD has learned from the Downtown Plan and make some adjustments for the Centre Plan strategy. Height limits were too restrictive in key areas like the Cogswell St. interchange. The Centre Plan calls for densification along transit routes but this will likey mean midrise at best in areas like Young St. and Windmill Rd.
The Cogswell area has post-bonus heights of ramparts maximum and currently there is very little space available to build highrises so I don't think that area is negatively affected.

I was thinking of south Barrington and Spring Garden Road areas. Also areas directly downtown could have allowed more height.
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Old Posted Oct 2, 2011, 2:58 PM
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The Cogswell area has post-bonus heights of ramparts maximum and currently there is very little space available to build highrises so I don't think that area is negatively affected.

I was thinking of south Barrington and Spring Garden Road areas. Also areas directly downtown could have allowed more height.
I guess I was suggesting that the Cogswell heights should have been rampart maximum without the red tape of height bonusing.
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Old Posted Oct 4, 2011, 4:57 PM
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I guess I was suggesting that the Cogswell heights should have been rampart maximum without the red tape of height bonusing.
Personally, I think the Cogswell Area should've been exempted from the rampart height rule and allowed to go up as tall as they wanted. The area isn't in a viewplane and it's blocked from view from the citadell by Scotia Square and it's towers. The only time you'd see them is if they did a Skye type development and went up to 45 stories - then you could see them. Oh we could only hope.

One of my hopes for the regional centre plan is that you would have a pre and post bonus height system for the entire core. You could exempt certain areas (mainly the low density residential areas) if it was felt that protection of this was important and then only offer the bonusing heights for lots along major corridors so that they could be like Spirit Place (as an example) and infill with more density. The Toronto Avenues Study really shows some promise for influencing how the Core Policy and LUB could work. I know a few planners are aware of the study, but haven't had a chance to look at it...my hope is that Spirit Place could be a shining example of what could be coming alone major corridors with primary transit in the next 20 years.

I see see huge potential for the communities of Albro Lake, Shannon Park, Highfield Park, Crichton Park, Brightwood Golf Course, Southdale and the industrial area around Mount Hope Drive for the Dartmouth side (in addition to downtown Dartmouth and around the Bridge Terminal) as being major infill communities on the Dartmouth Side (be it in the same height as Spirit Place) or even larger if good transportation is developed (LRT/Streetcar).

For the Halifax side, I will continue to advocate both Quinpool and Agricola as potential transit villages (with perhaps a streetcar or frequent bus service) but with the recent development proposal on Young, I see huge potential for that area around the Forum and I'm starting to change my tune about Kempt Road (with the towers proposed on Young). Of course, this is in addition to a potential plan for the Hydrostone. But I would also like to see some policy work done on the low density communities in the core to deal with the possibility of redevelopment to new single family homes. Inner city infilling is a day to day thing here in Calgary, but with the possibility of the ship building contract and potentially a huge influx of population associated with it - I suspect it's something that may take off in the near future. So I'd like to see how the plan deal with that issue as well.

My last major hope is that the plan/policy would have a definitive transportation map showing poential major transit corridors (existing and future) so that we have a guide to move forward. This way, if the city wanted to get back into streetcars or building an LRT - we know where the system could go, thus could begin the work to cost it out. Then we'd also know the areas where intensification for Transit Oriented Development would occur.

That also made me think about the universities - so here is my last comment. With the recent application by Dal, there needs to be some work done on potential growth of university residential uses around Dalhousie (mainly) but also with St. mary's too.

That is mainly my laundry list of what I hope the plan will deal with.
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Old Posted Oct 4, 2011, 10:36 PM
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HRM Council approved the terms of reference for this project and funding.
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Old Posted Oct 4, 2011, 10:48 PM
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Deleted post.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2011, 10:39 PM
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I found the presentation to the HRM standing committee about this project.

What I find interesting (and is noted as DRAFT) is the urban character and structure map on page 24 of the presentation. If you look carefully, the draft concept has some interesting things to note:
  • The area around the forum and where the recent high density application has been designated an 'urban centre';
  • There appears to be some use of the Toronto Avenue's study ideas and many corridors area being suggested, such as Agricola, parts of Robie, Quinpool and Gottingen (I would note the residential behind Agricola appears to be preserved);
  • Robie (including the car lot) has been suggested as an 'urban corridor';
  • Connaught, Jubilee, the lower part of Quinpool, Windsor and Bayers Road appear to be designated 'neighbourhood corridor';
  • The Dartmouth Bridge Terminal Area and near by appears to be an 'urban centre'; and
  • Shannon Park is a Neighbourhood Corridor/Centre.

The presentation also notes that mid-rise forms would typically be in urban neighbourhood corridors, urban neighbourhood centres, urban corridors, urban centre and urban cores which high-rise forms would only occur in the urban centre/urban core designations. Keep in mind, this is only proposed.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2011, 11:45 PM
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Hmm.. seems like there's not enough "urban neighbourhood" on the peninsula. Areas like Quinpool sidestreets are general neighbourhood which according to the chart does not even support townhouses. Actually some of those side streets have rowhouses (e.g. Jubilee) or apartment houses that are around 100 years old. It seems crazy to me to call this a regional centre and then declare that half of it is off-limits to anything more than detached houses.

The "approved development" lists are interesting and I have seen them before. They mention 3 downtown projects in the pre-approval stage that have not yet been announced. They also have the big list of Barrington heritage renovation projects. Unfortunately, I don't think much if any work has actually happened as a result of the Green Lantern, NFB, or Farquhar grants.
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