Development clears major hurdle
Court rules building doesn’t have heritage designation, developer to continue planning process
By STEVE PROCTOR Business Editor
Wed. Apr 2 - 6:41 AM
A $16-million redevelopment of heritage buildings in downtown Halifax cleared one hurdle Tuesday, but the developer backing the effort worries the project could still get caught up in proposed planning changes for the city.
Armour (Ben) McCrea, chairman of Armour Group, said a decision by Supreme Court Justice Walter Goodfellow affirming that a wood-framed building at 1870 Upper Water St. was mistakenly designated a heritage building will help move the project forward.
But he’s concerned the nine-storey project might still fall victim to height restrictions contemplated in the Halifax by Design planning effort.
"With the issue of the historical designation out of the way, the project meets all existing city policy but with the HRM by Design process moving ahead and the fact I do not yet have a staff report on the project, I’m concerned."
The project calls for the restoring and incorporation of four heritage buildings in the block between Historic Properties and the Granville Mall into a new 80,000-square-foot office building.
Mr. McCrea said the building at 1870 Upper Water St. has to be demolished to make the project viable. If it had remained a designated heritage property, he said he would have had to wait a year before he could tear it down. Worse still, he would leave himself open to be criticized for demolishing such a property.
So instead, he took the city to court and won.
"It was a clerical error made in 1981 that went undiscovered until 2005. Everyone acknowledges it was a mistake, and now the courts do too," he said in an interview. "It’s just unfortunate that it took this kind of time and expense to correct an error."
The city can still appeal the decision.
Mr. McCrea said his development will help meet the demand for more office space downtown but at street level still offer the opportunity for retail and food outlets.
The HRM by Design proposal, which has yet to be presented to council for approval, calls for a seven-storey height restriction on most of the downtown core. The proponents say that even with that limit, there is a potential for an additional 4.4 million square feet of office space.
Mr. McCrea said the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Halifax Partnership have been working with local developers to rationalize that number but as yet have been unable to do so.