UPDATED Oct 19/12
The UARB upheld the Harbour East Community Council decision to reject the proposed development at Prince Albert and Glenwood. The full decision document is below.
Jan 19/12 As community groups in Halifax rally to save St Pat’s Alexandra School from demolition claiming the process behind the decision was unfair, a Dartmouth community group is unhappy about plans for a 15-storey development which, if allowed to proceed, will be built within a residential neighborhood less than 70 feet from an existing home.
On Tuesday the Harbour East community council voted against rezoning the property on Prince Albert and Glenwood. Councillor Gloria McCluskey tells CBC.ca, “If you stick a 15-storey building on the corner of a street with all residential houses, can you tell me that’s compatible for the area? No,” The proposed building’s developer, Monaco Investments Ltd, is now looking at other options. One of the possibilities for the site includes a 16-storey hotel, which they already have a development agreement in place to build.
Jeff Weatherhead of the Banook Area Residents Association said that their group “supports development compatible with the existing low rise residential character of the area”, but the HRM Planning Staff Report presented to community council on Tuesday “has certain critical flaws in the techniques Planning Staff have used to gain support of Council vote on this application”.
Here is an excerpt from a detailed email the residents association sent to us along with a copy of the planning report in question. We’ve removed some names for privacy reasons.
“Our group formed in response to concerns within the local community for development pressures and how these pressures would impact existing community.
This Thursday evening, January 12, at 6:00PM, civic #90 Alderney Dr (former City Hall chambers) there is an HRM Planning Staff Report being recommended to Harbour East Community Council to approve the proposed 15 storey residential high rise of 92 units on a ½ acre consolidation of two lots.
The actual Public Hearing on this matter will be in early February, giving general members of the public a chance to voice their concerns.
Our group supports development compatible with the existing low and medium rise residential character of the area, or by-law compliant commercial development in keeping with the neighbourhood’s needs. We oppose both the application for re-zoning and development proposal for this application.
The staff report has certain critical flaws in the techniques Planning Staff have used to gain support of Council vote on this application.
Why this application should matter to home owners in the Manor Park – Crichton Park area?
Read through the Planner’s arguments and see how easy any Developer can consolidate two adjacent lots forming a ½ acre site and place a 15 storey highrise less than 70 feet from a person’s private two storey home with almost 100 new units. The Planners emphasize this can and should be able to happen anywhere between the Circumferential and the Harbour, within parameters matching the case of The Prince Albert. Special emphasis for high density development is given to Prince Albert Road because it lies between Penhorn Mall and Mic Mac Mall terminals. The same will be true for Crichton Park lying between Mic Mac Mall and Wyse Road terminals. Like much of Crichton Park and Silver’s Hill, affordable housing lies just outside the 35 foot height restriction area surrounding Lake Banook.
The issues are divided between two subjects (the Rezoning and the Development proposal). The re-zoning issue only incorporates density concerns through requirements set out in existing Municipal Planning Strategies under Policy IP-C, whereas density is a direct consideration for the development proposal under IP-05. The Dartmouth Planning Strategy does require sensitivity to adjacent existing low rise residential density, and therefore incorporates density concerns into Policy IP-C. Otherwise, there is great overlap between underlying detail to be considered for each of the two issues which will be voted on separately, in sequence of re-zoning first, and after the appeal period, then the development proposal.
I attach a Letter which I sent to the Planner, […], on this file, in September 2011 as I anticipated a standard ploy by the developer to get a Development Permit issued prior to Council vote claiming “as of right” commercial development for a 16 storey hotel with terms far less manageable than by way of R-4 residential highrise development agreement. Please review the credible international commercial website emporis.com, cited in my letter. The physical reality is no commercial building above 10 storeys exists anywhere outside a three kilometer radius from Downtown Halifax City Hall. The three commercial sites above 8 storeys and outside the 3 kilometer radius are The Maritime Life Building on Dutch Village Road and Howard Johnson Hotel both in Armdale and the Delta Sydney in Cape Breton . The proposed ½ acre for this site is much smaller than the three existing commercial highrises, the largest lot being over 7 acres in size.
Hotel chains of this scale require careful site selection, with plenty of room and ease of access. To secure financing for such proposals is hard work, with a proven business case required. Credible commercial proposals are not mere after thoughts to a large scale residential development. For the same reason, it is not easy and it takes time to turn a development with financing secured for rental highrise and convert a proposal into a condo development instead without significant pre-sale of condo units at market prices.
The reason this re-zoning and development proposal should matter to home owners in the Manor Park – Crichton Park area is the ease with which a Developer can consolidate two adjacent lots forming a ½ acre site and place a 15 storey highrise less than 70 feet from a person’s private two storey home. Even R-1 and R-2 zoning allow for R-4 highrise re-zone and development proposal.
In practice, stewardship of issues falls to individuals and community groups like ours to convince or show Councillors why these development proposals do not comply with a Municipal Planning Strategy so that Council can vote down a proposal, armed with the best community input. It is not easy to balance the broad concerns facing Council, however, it is important that the threshold test on Planning metrics not be the lowest common denominator of a list of what are the lowest standards or requirements that have gotten through previously, on site specific circumstances.
Please consider the important erosion of rights and expectations existing homeowners face under the following Planning staff recommendations:
1) Planning says the re-zoning and development proposal lessens the impact of bulk or lot coverage for Civic 5 Glenwood because it would be used as set-back for the 15 storeys, so remains vacant. The adjacent land owner should have some important influence to say whether this is an acceptable substitute. The current residential use has less adverse bulk impact for the adjacent land owner’s house, a feeling echoed by his neighbours.
2) Planning Staff have cited one nearby proposed highrise set-back as example for 50% of highrise height setback ratio from adjacent housing. That Development Agreement has not been finalized – nothing on title for this alternate site and that application has been outstanding for over four years. Despite other limitations and lack of formal authority to use this as the set-back ratio, the set back ratio for the closest house is still over 10% closer than the 50% ratio.
3) Most alarming is ease with which the Planner minimizes the density considerations for this site. Planning indicates that the standard R-4 units allowed for this site would be 56 units for 100% two bedroom or 61 units for the current mixed use proposal. Planning then adds on a “bonus” so that the proposal would be entitled to 71 units under standard HRM calculations. The actual proposal is for 92 units which equals a density of 155 units per acre. These are density rates approaching Manhattan and Hong Kong pushed thrust a mere 67 feet away from one and two story residential neighbours. A read through of why the Planner jumps from a maximum of 71 to 92 units is not reasoned in any way and totally disregards the standard R-4 metrics attached as an Appendix to the Planner’s Report. In the end, the Planner equates one bedrooms as equivalent to the two bedroom density limit, but the Appendix clearly shows that is not HRM’s standard planning metric for R-4 density.
4) Traffic is a significant concern. Studies show that critical improvements to metro transit require an increase from 1950’s style densities of 7-10 to a density of 10-15. After a level of density of 10-15 is achieved, there is no dramatic increase in the benefit to metro transit for added density. In fact, once density starts to approach 50 units per acre, then local residents reduce auto use because of traffic concerns. This has a devastating impact to independent living that allows many of the local seniors, with cars, to maintain an active quality of life while still in their own homes. HRM comparables are old Clayton Park, after traffic from new density in Clayton Park West was routed through their community streets.
Traffic has the added problem of pressure for street parking, and that will inevitably reduce safety and push the cost of installing sidewalks on to the local area residents who will already be greatly disadvantaged by the development. On rezoning, Policy IP-C recognizes that traffic incompatibility to major arteries is a key concern, yet Planning staff is recommending a driveway distance from the intersection shorter than HRM’s normal acceptable requirements. Traffic studies exaggerate the likely introduction of increased turning traffic, as opposite Glenwood Ave. already exists a Donut Shop, Convenience store which could offer a gas bar, welcome to nearby residents.
Available alternatives in Dartmouth include Horizon Court and Penhorn Mall proposals for highrises that are on very large acreages by comparison (10 to 42 acres). No matter how one feels about highrises, the impact of integrating highrises into existing low rise neighbourhoods with Planner identified traffic limitations and incompatible density is problematic.
If you accept that this type of in-fill is what is to be permitted and encouraged by the new Regional Municipal Planning Strategy,(and there is much in the Dartmouth Municipal Planning Strategy that says otherwise) then this is the leading edge of a complete re-writing of the fabric of old Dartmouth neighbourhoods. By contrast to Clayton Park, where new density arose in areas that did not in-fill into the old low rise housing (similar to Penhorn and Horizon Court sites), the problems and pressures we see with such conflicted in-fill (high density set into old neighbourhood infrastructure) will be much greater than just the heavy traffic problems of Clayton Park West. There is opportunity for new life into our schools, public transit and parks, but moderate density is important for the area, in keeping with rates of density, which are currently existing and proposed, at a density high of just over 30 units in the nearby 10 acres of mid-rise apartments.
Moderation is the touchstone for this site.
What the Planning Report clearly indicates is that medium rise density is presently permitted under the current C-2 zoning which allows R-3 medium rise density “as of right” which means without approval of either this re-zoning application or development proposal. The developer, as of right can build to match current medium rise apartments in the area, subject to existing by-laws. Approval of rezoning is not required.
Thanks for your time.