I’ve had a lot of emails and tweets today from people asking what the heck is going on with council, HRM and downtown. Concern was raised two weeks ago by the approval for the Burnside sale of parcel 12-4, and has gone stratospheric today because of the sale of the final Bayer’s Lake parcel.
So, here is a summary of what is going on, the good, bad and ugly, and what I hope we can do about it.
BURNSIDE – January 15 council voted to spend about $7 million on expanding Burnside in what is called parcel 12-4. During the meeting the excellent Peter Stickings, staffer who sells this type of real estate, answered my questions by saying “it is zoned I2, it won’t be office or retail.” I voted for the project. Twitter exploded with people saying, rightly, “I2 can be R (residential) or C (commercial).
Well, good people, yes it can, but there are a bunch of things HRM is already doing to make sure it stays “I”, and these are – Point of Sale, Site Development Proposal,Buy Back Agreement (BBA). You can read about it in detail here, and also about the plans to strengthen controls under RP+5 (the revised regional plan).
We need light industrial – there are lots of jobs in this kind of thing. But it has to stay industrial. I am confident we have good controls, and I don’t regret voting for this.
BAYERS LAKE EXPANSION – Today council voted on the final motion required to sell a large chunk of property next to Bayer’s Lake to Banc to develop as a retail park. I voted against it, as did Jennifer Watts, but that was purely symbolic. I knew it was going to pass, and because of the legal cost of walking away from this deal, I think we had to let it pass.
The original regional plan said “let’s get out of being a land developer.” Back before amalgamation Dartmouth was deliberately building an office and retail centre in City of Lakes next to Burnside, and why people think the Burnside controls won’t work.
Meanwhile Halifax was giving tax free serviced lots to PriceClub and Walmart to make sure they didn’t go to Dartmouth! Both cities actively developed, serviced, and sold lots, the way the private owner of Dartmouth Crossing is doing now.
HRM does NOT want to do this anymore. This piece of Bayer’s Lake is the last piece of property HRM owns, and it has been sold to a private developer for a goodly sum and he is going to create the lots and do the work. We are out of the retail business and when City of Lakes is built out, HRM will no longer be in this business except for the industrial part, with the strong controls. So when Turner Drake says “stop selling subsidized lots and undermining downtown” I think that really, HRM has, mostly, sorta, and soon really will be out of this business permanently. Staff was doing what they were told – dispose of this property, get us out of the business.
That said – I wish the old council had decided three or four years ago to say “you know what, let’s just not do anything with that land for 10-15 years.” I suspect Dartmouth Crossing and Bedford Common could have absorbed the big box retail demand.
More importantly, we do NOT have strong controls on this development like we do in Burnside, so yes, this could end up being strip malls or small office buildings in five years, competing DIRECTLY with downtown. This kind of big box concentration is hardly meeting the idea of building complete communities. We could accomodate big box stores in different ways.
I am glad I voted against this.
So what about downtown? We have an economic plan that talks about investing in downtown and the importance of a vibrant and growing centre and all that.
Council in March of 2011 did endorse the Greater Halifax Partnership Economic Strategy 2006-11.
It did not formally put into action the key points contained in the Economic Strategy, and two years have passed without formal and explicit commitments to spend money.
Some councillors seem to be starting to say that the convention centre and district heat and the library are “enough” for downtown.
Unless we have public realm investments to make the whole core of the city (Halifax and Dartmouth, the capital district) less rundown, we are wasting money on these other projects.
The Economic Plan clearly calls for at least $10 million a year in public realm investment. It doesn’t do us any good to have the new Library or whatever sitting in a downtown that looks more and more shabby and empty.
So, while I had to run to the airport today before the meeting ended, my colleague Councillor Watts moved this notice of motion on my behalf. Let us see if council will commit and put cash on the table, and start going after the province and the feds to get their share! Tune in next week!
NOTICE OF MOTION: Direct staff to produce a report to present to the Audit & Finance committee April 3, 2013 outlining an action plan, starting in fiscal 2013/14 with the strategic priorities for downtown as outlined in the Greater Halifax Partnership Economic Plan, as endorsed by Council in March of 2011, specifically:
- One – to establish the $50 million intergovernmental capital improvement campaign to repair and enhance the public realm in the urban core.
- Two – to establish a “Strategic Urban Reserve” fund for urban core beautification, “pole free area” public art and infrastructure improvements.