WORDS – my five minutes on the Skye proposal

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Mr Mayor I am pleased move this motion and support staff’s recommendation that council not move to first reading.

As staff just outlined there are five amendments that would be required to allow this proposal to go forward.

The discussion today is about trust.

Does council trust that we got it right when we passed the Regional Municipal Planning Strategy, the Halifax MPS, the Downtown Halifax Secondary MPS, and the Downtown Halifax land use bylaw, none of which are more that six years old?

We should trust.  When it comes to downtown, these plans have led us to a vision of the future of the core of the city, called HRMbyDesign

Not so long ago, in 2009, Council and HRM staff went to the developers and the community with the premise – let’s have clear and consistent development rules for downtown.

In order for this system to work everyone involved had to give a little to get a little.

Rather than fighting house to house, development to development, over every proposal, we agreed as a community and a municipality to develop a vision of what downtown should look like.

The watchdog that protects the plans integrity is our Design Review Committee, and that design review committee has recommended we reject Skye.

Why did we create HRM By Design?  What are its goals?

We tell the world it “Establishes a clear and compelling vision for our city’s future.” And specifically that it “Brings clarity and predictability to development review processes.”

HRM by Design gives us a modern, up to date, visionary plan for our downtown.

We now have clear development rules and despite difficult global economic conditions, and after just three years, we are starting to see the results.

HRMbyDesign is pro-business.  We gave the business and development communities what they asked for, clear and predictable rules.  Look at the well articulate stance taken by designers, architects, citizens, business people, and the downtown business development commission in their letters to council, urging council to have confidence in the plan.

Council has a specific goal of spreading development around downtown.  HRMbyDesign has limits and rules in place to encourage infill in all the empty lots downtown.  Focusing this much development on one small site will not help replace all the “missing teeth” in downtown, it will in fact make it more difficult for other developments to prosper.

HRMbyDesign is not against height.  The site in question could go to 20 stories as of right.  Over on the Cogswell site we will be able to see 25-30 stories.  We can build tall buildings in Halifax, we can even build tall buildings on the applicants site.

Council has rightly examined applications and allowed exceptions under Policy 89 in the past.  The test for “public good” is quite high, and rightly so.  The public good has to be significant and clearly enumerated.  Building a building and paying taxes is not enough to be considered for this exception.

Some say “we should let citizens have their say”.  Council has already done so – through the extensive and well received public hearings and citizen engagement that created HRMbyDesign.  HRM has invested staff time, taxpayers money and citizens have invested their time under the clear promise that the result would be a plan we would all live within.  We’ve had the public consultation, to move ahead with this project is in fact to ignore the voice of the public.

Even if we got parts of it wrong, even if we need to change the height limits, the right way to do that is in two years during the HRMbyDesign review process.

Rather than allow this one exemption, and open the floodgates to many future exemptions to the plan, we need to look at the whole plan as a plan.

This decision will set the tone for all of our development plans.  This impacts development plans and community plans throughout HRM.

How will any citizen trust our plans if they can be overturned whenever a big dollar development is proposed?  Every gas station, every quarry is fair game to be considered.  Citizens have trusted us to uphold these plans, and we have an obligation to follow through.

Council has the right to send any proposal to a development agreement process, but I just don’t feel there is a compelling case to do so with this proposal.

Mr Mayor, fellow councillors, I urge you to have confidence  in Council’s plans, in our staff, in the Design Review Committee, and in the many citizens, developers and business people who worked on this plan.  Have confidence, and vote yes to the motion.

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