Council approves highrise plans
Fans say developments will revitalize Barrington Street, opponents say buildings’ height out of scale for district
By MICHAEL LIGHTSTONE City Hall Reporter
Wed, May 11 - 7:26 AM
Public hearings on two major developments proposed for downtown Halifax attracted a sizable gathering inside the council chamber at city hall Tuesday night.
Supporters and opponents of the planned mixed-use projects, not far from each other on Barrington Street, were at the hearings to let regional council know they are concerned about the future of the central business district.
But they hold opposite views on what the neighbourhood should look like. In the end, council approved both proposed highrise developments.
Fans of the proposals said the projects would help revitalize the downtown. Detractors said the buildings would be out of scale for the district, which includes a fledgling heritage conservation area that has registered heritage structures.
Towers proposed for sites that house the Roy Building and the Discovery Centre were grandfathered under a municipal planning strategy. So both development proposals were considered through an application process that predates provisions in HRM by Design.
Each project is taller than the 21 metres allowed under the new rules for development. Halifax Regional Municipality’s heritage advisory committee gave the Discovery Centre plan its blessing, but it wasn’t fond of the Roy Building’s design.
An advisory committee report to council said plans for the Roy structure don’t comply with city hall’s policy on adjacent buildings. A staff report on the building, though, recommended the development proceed.
As in previous disputes over the planning of towers downtown, the height of the proposed projects and corresponding wind and shadow matters were issues raised during Tuesday’s hearings.
One councillor noted that not only were the arguments familiar, so were the people putting them forward.
Business operators almost always support any new projects, while heritage advocates and others usually condemn major developments downtown and often criticize council and city staff for considering them in the first place.
With respect to the Roy Building, developer Louis Resnick’s sales pitch said his $40-million project would be "spectacular in function and form." The current low-rise building will be demolished soon, he told council.
Other supporters, including Coun. Dawn Sloane (Halifax Downtown), said the proposed development would give the downtown core a much-needed shot in the arm. Opponents, however, chastised council for putting its faith in projects that proponents religiously claim is the next big thing to propel the area forward.
Council heard that the development agreement for the Roy Building project says construction must start within three years.
Project foes suggested the municipal process governing the proposal might be illegal, but city hall’s top lawyer said that was not the case.
Most councillors voted in support of Resnick’s planned Roy Building development. Council voted in favour of developer Frank Medjuck’s Discovery Centre proposal, too.
During the public hearings, there were references to what kind of legacy Halifax council will leave behind. Veteran councillor Bob Harvey (Lower Sackville), who backed both developments, told his colleagues it was "an important night" for this council and the municipality.
"There’s no point having a downtown with heritage buildings that are empty from the ground up," he said.
Coun. Jackie Barkhouse (Woodside-Eastern Passage) wasn’t buying the supporters’ view that highrise projects help make for a more vibrant downtown. She opposed both developments.
"What constitutes vibrancy?" she asked.