Council Update: Library Facilities Plan, Ferry Schedule, Willow Tree and more

Alderney Gate Library. Photo FGoldsmith flickr

Library Facilities Master Plan: The first thing on Council’s agenda on Tuesday was a presentation by Halifax Public Libraries CEO, Asa Kachan, on the Library’s upcoming facilities plan. Halifax Public Libraries is facing the same challenges that libraries are facing throughout the world as they shift from places that were just for lending books into community hubs. This is having an impact on space requirements. The Library Facilities Plan will attempt to meet the evolving needs of the public, while also keeping up with HRM’s future population growth.

With the Halifax Central Library project finished, the focus of the new Plan will be on the other thirteen branches that make up the library system. While we weren’t given specifics, the CEO indicated that the five emerging priorities are Bedford, Halifax North, Dartmouth North, Keshan Goodman and Alderney Gate. I was pleased to see Alderney on the list. Alderney is the third busiest branch in the entire library system, seeing more than 300,000 visitors each year. Only the Central Library and Keshan Goodman are busier. Alderney has served us very well, but it’s now at its mid-life and is ready for a refresh. I think there are a lot of exciting possibilities to renovate Alderney and make it an even better anchor for Downtown Dartmouth.

There was no motion for Council coming out of the Library’s presentation, it was more of a heads-up as to what’s coming down the pipe. Expect to hear more about the Library Facilities Plan and what it might mean for Alderney over the next few years.

Alderney Ferry Schedule Adjustments: Still on the subject of Alderney, the Ferry schedule was back at Council. A quick refresh if you’ve missed previous discussions about the ferry. In 2015, HRM hired an extra ferry crew for the Alderney route to mitigate the impact of the Big Lift. The extra crew allowed HRM to increase the frequency on weekday evenings from 30 minutes to 15 and expand the Sunday service from a half-day to a full-day.  Ridership responded to the stick (harder to cross the bridge) and the carrot (better ferry service) and grew by 50% on the Alderney route over the last two years. Given that growth, I was able to convince Council during the 2017/2018 budget to keep the extra service on a trial basis.

What Council had to decide Tuesday was what to do with the extra crew now that bridge closures aren’t going to be a regular evening event. What we opted for was to take some of the weekday evening hours and move them to the daytime to plug the gap in 15 minute service that currently exists from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. The new schedule starting on February 19 will be all day 15 minute service and then 30 minute service from 8:00 pm to midnight. This makes sense because there is strong demand during the day, evening usage tends to decline after 8:00 pm, and the simplified schedule will be more user friendly. No more being 45 minutes late for work if you miss the 9:00 pm! The popular full day service on Sunday will remain as is.

Unfortunately, HRM has to wait till February to make the change because of the complicated process to amend transit schedules. We could have opted to change the schedule sooner, but the change wouldn’t have been reflected in all of the online transit tools. The result would be people getting the wrong information from Google and apps and then potentially missing connections. Council opted to wait on making the change until everything can be updated in February. Given that December is an unusual month with most people in holiday mode, I don’t think waiting till February is a big deal.

At budget time in the New Year, I will need to once again move that Council provide transit with the funding to keep the extra hours on the Alderney Ferry for 2018/2019. If ridership stays up in 2018, as I expect it will, transit will hopefully then make the extra hours a core part of the 2019/2020 service.

Willow Tree: We had a bit of a surprise debate about the 20 29 25 20 storey development at the corner of Quinpool Road and Robie Street (the Willow Tree intersection). The history on this one is a bit complicated. Regional Council voted to initiate a planning process back in 2014 in response to an application from APL Properties. In initiating the plan amendment, Council provided some specific instructions to staff to address issues related to height, mass, density, shadow and spacing. Staff returned to Council in September 2016 to report that they had satisfied all of the criteria except they couldn’t reach an agreement with the developer about the height of the building. APL wanted 29 storeys while staff argued that 20 was appropriate. Council sided with APL though and voted to proceed with 29. Staff then went off to write the plan amendment.

Unfortunately for APL, the 2016 election happened while staff were drafting and some of the new faces around the room changed the dynamic. When the draft plan amendment and a request to schedule a public hearing returned to Council in March 2017, Council revised the amendment to go back to 20 storeys. Since March, a public hearing for 20 storeys was scheduled and cancelled because APL wasn’t prepared to proceed.

So why was the Willow Tree proposal at Council this week when Council had already voted to schedule a public hearing at 20? The Willow Tree came back in the form of an Information Report from the planning department. In the report, staff indicate that APL isn’t willing to proceed with a development at 20 because it’s not profitable enough for them to build. APL has instead suggested that they could reduce the height to 25 by shrinking the size of the units (same number, just smaller). They assert that this would make their business case work.

Councillor Cleary brought the Information Report forward for discussion and we ended up having a long discussion about 20 versus 25. I strongly backed the original staff recommendation of 20 storeys in March and nothing in the Information Report or in the debate caused me to change my view. Staff recommended 20 and that’s what’s in the Centre Plan. The public consultation that has gone into the Centre Plan has been extensive and what I generally hear from residents is that they support its balanced approach. The Willow Tree proposal is a plan amendment, which means it’s entirely optional. Council is under no obligation to accept a change. The Centre Plan regulations for Quinpool Road are about 6 months away from coming to Council. So the key question for me is, with the Centre Plan so close and with broad public support for its framework, why entertain an optional request that allows for something different? I couldn’t see any answer to this question that would lead me to support 25. It’s not Council’s job to change plans so that a project can meet a specific owner’s financial criteria. The vote ended up being 9 in favour of APL’s 25 storey proposal and 8 against. Since Council has already given direction on a plan amendment of 20 storeys, the motion to change to 25 was considered a motion of reconsideration. A motion of reconsideration requires 2/3 support so a narrow majority of 9-8 in favour of 25 wasn’t enough to overturn Council’s previous direction. A public hearing at 20 is what’s open to APL if they wish to proceed.

Incentives for Affordable Housing: Regional Council gave first reading to an amendment to the building bylaw that would exempt non-profits that are constructing affordable housing from permit fees. This arose out of concerns expressed by the Housing Trust related to getting their two projects on Gottingen Street off the ground. Although the amendment was in response to the Trust’s request, it has the potential to benefit all non-profits involved in affordable housing. It’s a small thing, but something that Council can do to make it a little bit easier for the non-profits doing great work out there.

We also voted to ask the Province to amend the HRM Charter to allow for a special tax rate for non-profits and for the ability to provide multi-year tax relief. Multi-year tax relief is important because banks lend money only based on what’s absolutely certain. The fact that non-profit organizations receive tax relief from HRM’s tax exemption program year after year doesn’t change the fact that they need to reapply each year. It means that taxes that non-profits don’t actually pay still get counted against what they can potentially borrow by the banks making it more challenging to arrange financing. The non-profit tax rate and multi-year tax relief request brings HRM’s outstanding legislative requests with the Province to 23. Having to seek provincial amendments all the time is sure a cumbersome way to run a province/municipality.

Clothing donation bins. Photo: CBC NS

Recycling Cloth: One thing that I thought was pretty neat on our agenda was a request for expressions of interest from non-profits regarding cloth recycling. Audits at Otter Lake indicate that cloth accounts for 8.6% of household waste collected at the landfill, costing HRM nearly $475,000 a year in tipping fees. It’s possible to divert this waste. Most people are familiar with the used-clothing bins that take donations for resale, but many charities are also willing to take stained or torn cloth for recycling. The latter isn’t widely known so most things with holes or stains end up in the trash.

Rather than introduce a curbside recycling program that would be costly and would likely divert materials away from charities that are already collecting cloth to help sustain their operations, staff proposed enhancing the Halifax Recycles App. The idea is that the App could provide people with information about nearby donation bins or link residents with charities that are willing to come pickup donations at the doorstep. The Halifax Recycle App developer indicates that this would be a first in North America. To make sure all charities have a chance to be involved Council approved staff going out with an expression of interest. This seems to me, like an innovative solution. We’ll see what develops and what the uptake is.

Other:

  • Approved a surplus property sale to the Fall River Minor Football Association
  • Selected Waye Mason as our new Deputy Mayor
  • Adopted a plan for how HRM will prepare the 2018/2019 budget
  • Increased spending to finish work underway in Titus Smith Park in Fairview (poor soil conditions meant it cost more than planned)
  • Directed staff to prepare amendments bylaw amendments to allow HRM to waive transit and recreation fees for asylum seekers and refugee claimants
  • Amended Admin Order One to end the automatic referral of presentations at Council to staff. New system is present at Council and someone one Council needs to be moved to take some action in relation to a presentation.
  • Directed staff to prepare amendments to the parking bylaw to allow carshare vehicles to be eligible for residential parking permits and to locate pick-up stations in the street right-of-way
  • Approved a 50% grant for work on 2146 Brunswick Street, a registered heritage propertyIncreased the contract with McPhail Transportation Planning Services so that the contractor can finish work on the Integrated Mobility Plan
  • Requested a staff report about improvements to the Councillors Code of Conduct and a report on adding Springfield Lake Recreation Centre to the list of facilities able to access capital reserve funds

 

5 Comments

  1. thank you for keeping us ini try to watch council on TVbut it is not always possible. Would like to attend a council mtg. When? Where? times? Can we access the agenda prior to meetings so we know what is coming up? thanks

  2. I am so glad to be able to read what’s going on at recent council meetings. The proposed 20 stories at Robie and Quinpool should definitely stay at 29 stories and it is not council’s responsibility to take into consideration if this will be profitable. You agreed on 20 stories and that should stand.
    Please let Beechville have the land around their church. IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!
    Leave our protected lands be!!
    I and many other citizens are always saying where are all the people coming from to fill these expensive units and homes. I really don’t understand why the developers are still getting permits to do so . They are definitely a powerful bunch!!
    We need more affordable housing not more out of reach fancy condo/ apartment buildings!!
    I’m very satisfied with your work on council.A very hard and sometimes thankless job. You were elected to serve your constituents and I hope you will continue to do it with transparency. I always have said that all I ever would hope for is an honest politician that is there for all the right reasons!! Thank you!!

    • Thanks Alaney. We actually voted on Beechville yesterday (haven’t done my write up yet). Modified process that has additional public consultation, conditions, and consideration for the Baptist Church. I think it hit the right note that was missing when the Lovett Lake lands first came to Council. Also voted to have the mayor write the Province about land titles issue that is rooted in institutionalized racism.

      On the topic of “who is filling the new buildings.” HRM added 7,000 people last year. That growth is coming from people moving to HRM from all over. About half are from elsewhere in the Maritimes while the other half is about evenly split between international immigrants and people from elsewhere in Canada. That growth in HRM isn’t enough to offset the decline in rural Nova Scotia so that’s why we have a growing city while the provincial population is pretty much stagnant. There is increasingly two Nova Scotias: one that is prospering and urban and one that is declining and rural. It’s a big policy challenge for the provincial government. A lot of folks in rural Nova Scotia resent Halifax’s success because they see the negative impacts in their own communities of losing residents, particularly the young. The problem is the alternative to moving to Halifax for most of these people isn’t staying in Shelburne, Yarmouth and or New Glasgow, it’s moving out of Province to Toronto or Calgary. The worldwide trend is for more and more people to live in cities. It’s being driven by social, economic and cultural forces that are bigger than any government. Better transportation linkages into rural Nova Scotia would help so that the halo around Halifax extends out a bit farther, but it’s not something that we’re going to be able to change entirely. We’re lucky to have an urban centre with the critical mass to sustain our Province in an increasingly urbanized world.

      The other thing that’s happening is household size is decreasing. There are more and more single-households as the younger generations are having fewer kids and are waiting until later in life. Meanwhile the babyboomers are aging and many are looking to move into multi-unit buildings. The result is the housing market has done a 180. While single-family homes have traditionally made up the largest portion of the market, it’s now multi-unit buildings where the demand is. That’s why we have a forest of cranes.

      • I hear what You’re saying. So happy that we are a growing city. Not happy about the rent prices. Not affordable for low or fixed income people. What about them??

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