Before launching into the business of my last newsletter of 2017 (a lot to cover this month), I wanted to take a moment to wish you the best for the holidays and the New Year from myself and my family. I have been serving as your Councillor for just over a year now. Reflecting on the past year, here are some of the highlights from my perspective:
- Fixed the crosswalk on Prince Albert Road by Silvers Hill and HRM is exploring a redesign of the four lane section of the street.
- The Centre Plan’s policy section has been accepted in principle by Council (regulations to come in 2018).
- Held onto the extra service that was added to the Alderney Ferry as a result of the Big Lift.
- Sportsplex renovation was approved (budget increase and all) and is underway.
- Sawmill River is being daylighted.
- HRM partnership with the province to provide free transit to the most vulnerable in our community.
- Integrated Mobility Plan has been accepted by Council, with its promise of complete streets, an active transportation network, and transit priority design.
- Brought participatory budgeting to Dartmouth giving residents a direct say in how district funds are spent.
- Launched my newsletter and new website to provide you with information about what’s going on in the community, HRM and at Council.
It’s not a bad list! I hope that 2018 proves to be as productive. To be effective at this job takes a lot of time, but I thoroughly enjoy the work. It’s a pleasure to represent you at City Hall and to have the chance to try and make things better. Thank you for putting your faith in me and staying engaged through my newsletter. All the best for the season.
Integrated Mobility Plan:
On December 5th, Council approved the Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP) to sketch out the future of transportation in HRM. You can read it here. The IMP has a long list of action items, but the broad goal is to get more people out of their cars and onto transit, bikes and foot. Key to doing this is getting the underlying land-use planning correct. If we concentrate growth in places where it’s difficult to get around without a car than we’ll get more car use. The IMP openly acknowledges that if the Centre Plan fails, the IMP also won’t deliver on the percentages walking, cycling or taking transit.
The three big items that the IMP identifies are an active transportation network by 2022, a system of transit priority corridors, and complete streets. The commitment to active transportation is to build a grid of protected bike lanes in the Regional Centre. This would include stitching together missing sections of trail in Dartmouth along the Harbour and between the Harbour and Sullivan’s Pond, making the approaches to the Bridge more attractive (MacDonald Bridge Connector project), providing connections to Portland Hills via Baker Drive, and linking Burnside and Dartmouth North. I was pleased to see the active transportation network that is envisioned.
On transit, the IMP also doesn’t settle for half-measures. The IMP proposes a grid of transit priority corridors, which would be designed to get buses out of traffic altogether (bus only lanes) or measures like priority signals to get buses through choke-points quicker (like what exists at the MacDonald Bridge). Old Dartmouth has a high rate of transit ridership. The proposed transit corridors will make taking the bus more attractive and benefit many in District 5 and beyond.
Lastly the IMP proposes to reconsider how we use and allocate space on our streets. Transportation Planning is still recovering from the ideas of the 1960s that everyone would get around on highways and congestion would disappear if we just built bigger roads. The story didn’t turn out that way of course and bigger roadways with more lanes just destroyed the places tehy were dumped in and encouraged more people to drive, creating more congestion. Changing that approach is essential part of the IMP. I’m particularly excited about what complete streets could mean for roads in Dartmouth like Wyse Road, Prince Albert Road, Alderney Drive, and Victoria Road. These are places where traffic engineering has made things worse for our community. It’s time for a rethink.
Council did make some minor amendments to the IMP. I put forward a motion to require regular reporting to Council on progress. My reason for focussing on reporting is so that the IMP doesn’t get forgotten. The biggest risk to the IMP is that it goes on a shelf as a bold vision full of pretty pictures that don’t make it into the real world. Regular reporting will help drive the change in Council and amongst staff.
My other motion involved updating the Municipal Design Standards, the so-called Red Book. The Red Book is the engineers bible that dictates how HRM builds streets. It’s, unfortunately, quite outdated and leads us into doing silly things, like building King’s Wharf Place so wide that you can do a u-turn in the middle of it without even having to adjust for parked cars.
Every year HRM spends $20-$30 million on road paving projects. Every year we continue to spend that money with an outdated Red Book is another year of missed opportunities to fix streets that could be better. Getting the Red Book updated is key to so much of the IMP, it has to be a top priority. My colleagues agreed with me and we voted to require phased updates resulting in a completely new Red Book in two years (by 2020). This project was already on staff’s radar, but now there is the extra stamp of Council priority on it.
The other amendments came from Councillor Mason who asked for options to speed up the timeline for some of the IMP’s signature items including (1) completing implementation of the active transportation network by 2020, (2) the Bayers and Gottingen transit corridors by 2019 and (3) the Young/Robie transit corridor by 2020. Staff will return with options on these projects in the New Year.
Downtown Dartmouth Plan:
One of the big items coming in the New Year is an updated Downtown Dartmouth Plan. The process is considered an update since the Downtown Dartmouth Plan isn’t that old (2000) and the plan’s core vision isn’t changing. HRM’s approach to planning though has evolved considerably since the Downtown Dartmouth Plan was first enacted, making the “update” more extensive than the title might suggest. The new plan proposes to bring an urban design manual to Dartmouth, enable site-plan approval, density bonusing, commits HRM to a new heritage district, and sets clear height limits across the Downtown. It’s a significant change.
To kickoff the renewed effort to finish this long-stalled update, HRM staff held a meeting at Alderney Landing last week. If you missed the meeting on Monday, you can checkout the materials that were presented in their entirety here (pdfs of the presentation under documents library on the right). I have included some of the highlights below.
One area where the original Downtown Dartmouth Plan has fallen short is on growing the Downtown population. The old plan set a goal of increasing it from 6,300 to 10,000 by 2020. Focussing growth in the existing urban area makes sense from a transportation, environmental and cost perspective, but it also matters for the viability of Downtown. Gone are the days when everyone went Downtown to shop, eat and be entertained because it was the only option. Today, Downtown has to compete with places like Dartmouth Crossing. To survive, Downtown needs to offer a unique experience, it needs good transit connections, and it needs a sizable nearby residential population to act as a base. Unfortunately, the Downtown Dartmouth Plan’s population has fallen well short of 10,000, totalling just over 7,000 in 2016. This miss was in part market conditions, but it also came from the Plan not clearly identifying where new development could go. To make sure the positive changes that we’ve seen on Portland Street and elsewhere continues, we need to correct that and grow the Downtown population.
The other challenge that has emerged in Downtown Dartmouth is the lack of clarity regarding height. The viewplane from Brightwood Golf Course use to create a defacto upper height limit in development agreements. The protected view from Brightwood was removed though in 2013 because HRM doesn’t protect views from private property. Developers and residents should both be able to clearly understand what can be built Downtown. The updated Downtown Dartmouth Plan includes property specific height limits to provide clarity for everyone.
Tied into the effort to encourage development Downtown is the need to identify what should be saved. Downtown Dartmouth’s best feature is its human scale. The rhythm of narrow storefronts and the old residential neighbourhoods are inviting and worth protecting. The updated plan proposes a large heritage district that would stretch from the Commons and Park Avenue down to Portland Street and from Alderney Drive to Victoria Road. It takes in most of Downtown’s fine-grain streetscape. New construction would still be permitted in the heritage district, but it would be subject to lower heights and additional design requirements.
Also of interest in the new Downtown Dartmouth Plan is finally enabling the Dartmouth Cove Plan. Dartmouth Cove and King’s Wharf will end up providing homes to many new residents, but the challenge with both is how to connect them to the rest of the community. Access to King’s Wharf will be considered as part of the revised development agreement that W.M. Fares has applied for. For Dartmouth Cove, the draft plan proposes extending Dundas Street into Dartmouth Cove and then recreating the street grid.
They’ll be more public meetings to come and opportunities to provide feedback on the new Downtown Dartmouth Plan in 2018. I’m glad to see some new energy behind this important and previously stalled project.
Prince Albert Road Diet:
There are potentially big changes coming to Prince Albert Road. HRM staff are looking at taking the section from Sinclair to Braemar from four lanes to two. This project has come about because Prince Albert Road was on the list for paving in 2017. Rather than repave the four lane section as is, I asked staff to review the underlying design. My hunch was that, since four lanes becomes two at Sinclair, it really doesn’t matter where the bottleneck is, the effective traffic capacity on Prince Albert Road would be the same. Staff went off and looked at the idea and agreed to pursue a new two lane design.
Making Prince Albert Road two lanes along the lake would make for a more pleasant space, but it’s more than just an aesthetic improvement, it would actually make the road a safer place for everyone. Studies have shown that people primarily drive the speed that they feel comfortable at, not the speed that’s posted. When Prince Albert Road widens to four lanes, it sends the signal to speed. Having to cross four lanes of fast moving traffic puts pedestrians at risk and makes it harder for motorists to safely enter and exit from Lakeview Point Road and Glenwood Avenue. A narrower Prince Albert Road would be a safer street.
There is also a long-term savings by reducing Prince Albert Road to two lanes since it reduces the amount of asphalt that HRM has to plow and maintain.
The Prince Albert Road redesign is exactly the sort of complete streets project that the IMP envisions. If you missed the meeting in November, you can read about the preliminary concepts for a very different Prince Albert Road here.
Glenwood/Prince Albert Development:
The biggest Harbour East Community Council meeting that I can recall happened on December 7. The question that drew a crowd of over 200 was whether to allow a nine storey condominium at the corner of Prince Albert Road and Glenwood Avenue. The corner in question is a great spot for a project: It’s on a main road, in a mixed use area, with good access to transit and parks, and the existing building is ugly, poorly designed, and underused. The same as true for several properties on this section of Prince Albert Road. These are the reasons that the Centre Plan identifies Grahams Grove as “corridor” that is suitable for medium density development.
At the public hearing, there were many arguments made about wind and traffic, but what I found most persuasive concerned the scale of the proposed building and it’s compatibility with the surrounding neighbourhood. A nine storey building would have be a significant departure from what currently exists (5 storeys at Banook Shores being the current tallest building at Grahams Grove). Rather than vote no and force the developer to start all over again, I made a motion for a supplemental report to consider a 6 storey building. My goal was to give the developer a chance to rework his proposal.
If a revised project is forthcoming, a new public hearing might be necessary. If the developer decides that he doesn’t want to make any modifications to his design, Council will vote on the nine storey proposal. Expect to hear more about this one in the New Year. You can read my detailed account of the meeting here
The 2018 budget season has begun at City Hall. Council had its first meeting last week to set the overall fiscal direction. HRM operates on a two year budget cycle, meaning that the general plan for this year was set back in 2017. Since 2017, some unforeseen challenges have emerged, the most significant of which is an extra $10 million in wage costs for police and firefighters.
Police and firefighters can’t strike for obvious reasons so contracts go to binding arbitration when negotiations fail. The contract went to arbitration this year and the arbitrator awarded officers a 2.75% increase, significantly more than the 1% increase that HRM was aiming for. HRM is like most municipalities in that firefighter salaries are tied to police, which means the arbitrator’s decision has also impacted firefighting costs.
You can’t add $10 million to the budget without having to raise taxes or cut other services. Council has approved a 1.9% tax increase ($35 for the average household, below CPI and above the average wage growth in HRM) to pay for the wage increases. 1.9% will generate $10 million , meaning the entire 1.9% will go to pay for wages. You can read my detailed take on the 2018 budget here.
Sawmill River Construction:
Phase 1 of the Sawmill River project is in the homestretch now. If all goes according to plan this week, Ochterloney will reopen on the weekend. The detour has been a real nuisance for everyone and I’m glad it’s coming to an end. When Ochterloney reopens the no parking during the afternoon rush hour signage along Hawthorne Street will be removed and the lights at Prince Albert and Hawthorne will be reset to their pre-detour setting (green lights will be back to favouring Prince Albert rather than Hawthorne). Finalizing Phase 1 will drag into the New Year, but the project is nearing an end.
With Phase 1 in the home stretch, I have had a few people ask me when Phase 2 will begin. Phase 2 will run from the end of Lock4 by Irishtown Road down to the Harbour. What Halifax Water does with that section depends on how much space is needed for a redesigned Alderney/Portland/Prince Albert intersection. HRM is looking at the design of that intersection now and as a result, Halifax Water’s design hasn’t been finalized. A second federal infrastructure program is expected to open for applications in 2018. If the Sawmill River project once again receives federal funds, work could start as early as 2019. If, however, federal funding proves elusive, then Halifax Water will need to pay for Phase 2 from their regular budget. If Halifax Water has to fund the project by itself, it’ll likely be a few years before construction of Phase 2 gets underway.
We’ve already had our first small dusting of the white stuff and there is definitely more to come. This year in District 5, the boundaries between contractors and in-house staff have been adjusted. One contractor will handle snowclearing in the Crichton Park, Manor Park, Murray Hill and Gaston Road areas while the rest of District 5 will be done by HRM municipal staff.
The old practice of having bus stops cleared separately has been scrapped and now the contractor in charge of a sidewalk route is also in charge of clearing the bus stops. This will hopefully end the old situation of having a snowed in bus stop next to a freshly cleared sidewalk.
HRM’s winter parking ban will once again take effect when it snows between December 15 and March 31. You can sign up for parking ban notifications online here. Notifications can be sent via text, email or phone. Please note as well that police can ticket or tow, even if the parking ban isn’t on, if your vehicle is obstructing snow clearing. Parked cars that are parked half on the sidewalk (hanging out of the end of the driveway) are a frequent nuisance for sidewalk plow operators. Whether the parking ban is officially on or not, please don’t get in the way of crews trying to dig us out.
For more information about HRM’s winter operations, including service standards, checkout the municipal page here.
HRM Volunteer Award Nominations:
The holiday season is a great time to reflect and think of all the people in our community who give up their time to make HRM a better place. HRM recognizes the work of volunteers each year with the HRM Volunteer Awards. Nominations have been extended and are open until this Friday, December 22. If you know someone in our community who is doing great things and who hasn’t been recognized officially before, consider nominating them. It’s a small thing that we can do to extend our collective thanks. Nominations can be dropped off at the Findlay Community Centre, be submitted by email or mailed in. For complete details, checkout the nominations forms online here
To keep you better informed about what is going on at Council, I’m writing a regular blog after council meetings. Each of my entries is about what I saw as noteworthy from a District 5 perspective and my views on the issues. We might not always agree, but I think it’s important to provide a record of how I voted and why.
Council Update November 14, 2017
Council heard from the Halifax Public Libraries about their upcoming master plan, adjusted the Alderney Ferry schedule (change to 15 minute all day service in February), considered the height for Armco’s proposed tower at the corner of Quinpool and Robie, enabled the waiving of building permit fees for affordable housing projects and approved a new approach using the Halifax Waste App to reduce the amount of cloth going into the landfill, and more. Read about it here.
Council Update December 12, 2017
At the most recent meeting Council entered into a partnership with the Province to provide free transit passes to people on income and employment assistance programs. We also looked at a new Parks building for Grahams Grove, an Off Leash Dog Park administrative order to guide future park development, crosswalk flags, Halifax Water’s annual report and more. Read about it here.
Winter Concert Wyndrock Quintet
Wednesday December 20, 7:00 p.m.
Alderney Gate Library
Wyndrock Quintet returns to Alderney to offer a winter concert featuring a rich feast of wind quintet selections, pieces by duo pianists Louise Grinstead and Michèle Bortolussi, and sparkling music for the holiday season
New Years Eve City Hall
Sunday December 31, 10:00 p.m.
Celebrate New Years Eve at Grand Parade with a free concert and fireworks. This year’s show features A Tribe Called Red and Neon Dreams.
New Years Day Levees
Monday, January 1
The Maritime tradition of New Years Levees is still going strong. City Hall’s Levee will run 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Some of the other Levees planned to ring in the New Year include the Lieutenant Governor’s at Government House 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., the Dartmouth Lawn Bowling Club 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Dartmouth Yacht Club 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., and Cole Harbour Place 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. The Cole Harbour Place Levee includes free swimming and skating.