It’s fair to say no one likes Halifax’s development planning process.
Consider developer Joe Metledge, who successfully sued the city over its flip-flopping on his St. Pat’s-Alexandra School redevelopment project. During a recent breakfast meeting of developers, planners and lawyers, Metledge complained about the city’s failure to defend his industry against the “demonization of development and developers.”
The featured speaker was Bob Bjerke, the city’s chief planner, who allowed he “occasionally heard people speak not entirely positively of the planning department” either.
Those speaking ill include people like architect Grant Wanzell, a member of the Willow Tree Group, a citizen’s coalition concerned about the city’s skyscraping plans for the Robie-Quinpool neighbourhood. Citizens, says Wanzell, have been “over-consulted but not listened to.”
He says the department ignored the city’s own regulations on building height and destiny as well as clearly articulated citizen opposition to adjacent twin tower project proposals for Robie Street and Quinpool Road. Worse, he adds, a staff report on redeveloping the former St. Patrick’s High School site nearby refers to those tower projects — still under review — “as if they were already precedent” for whatever is proposed for St. Pat’s.
The planning department recently reorganized to become “good partners in directing investment in city building in Halifax.” If that sounds like it wants to curry favour with developers, a recent staff report arguing for changes to public input in the process to make it less “adversarial” — using more web pages and social media, for example, to reduce what Councilor David Hendsbee dismissed as public “pitch and bitch” sessions — seems even more so.
The real issue, notes Dartmouth Councillor Gloria McCluskey is not that residents are frustrated because they have to devote so many weeknights to discussing development proposals but because “absolutely nothing” changes, no matter what they say.
Halifax is in the messy middle of the Centre Plan consultation, an attempt to figure out the future look and feel and face of the 33-square kilometres known as the regional centre (peninsular Halifax and Dartmouth), which is home to almost 100,000 people, not to forget the downtown core, the harbourfront, universities, hospitals, neighbourhoods…
Halifax, of course, is also at the benign beginning of its every-four-year municipal election campaign.
We need to talk about things that matter.