Reality Bites provides the best coverage of current affairs and political issues related to Halifax and City Council anywhere in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Oh, and we bring the snark, too. Contact jacob@thecoast.ca to send a tip.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Halifax staff may get tips from the province on cutting red tape

Council to consider six-month fact-finding mission to Nova Scotia’s bureaucratic chop shop.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 4:32 PM

VIA ISTOCK
  • via iStock


The Halifax Regional Municipality may get some tips on reducing bureaucratic red tape by sending a city hall staffer off on a six-month fact-finding mission.



The grand expedition was discussed at Thursday’s meeting of HRM’s Community Planning and Economic Development committee, and will now be sent to regional council for final approval. It comes out of a February request by deputy mayor Matt Whitman looking for a red tape reduction strategy in HRM.


“It’s ironic a report on red tape took five months to get here,” said councillor Stephen Adams on Thursday.

The report recommends HRM commit a single staffer to head off on a six-month secondment to the inter-provincial Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness.

The joint ORASE office was created between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick last year, and later expanded to Prince Edward Island. 


The charter for the office—approved by all three provincial governments—states that government regulation “should be a public policy tool of last, not first, resort.” If it absolutely has to be enacted, regulation should be “in the lightest form possible.”

One lucky municipal staffer will get to drink that kool-aid for six months, with a possible extension of up to three years.

Staff are hoping to reduce the “red tape” around any rules, regulations and bureaucratic procedures that are “excessively complex” or “impose unnecessary delay, inaction and/or costs.”

“Unnecessary red tape frustrates businesses and citizens by stifling business growth and broader economic development, as well as day to day service delivery.”

Thursday’s meeting saw a surprise appearance by mayor Mike Savage, who sat in for the discussion and stressed it was “incumbent upon” HRM to reduce its red tape. Doing so, said the mayor, is “pro-customer.”

Councillor Jennifer Watts however argued that some businesses owners have a perception of unnecessary red tape without understanding the regulation’s purpose. She cautioned HRM to make sure that in cutting red tape the municipality didn’t inadvertently end up cutting loose regulatory measures that protect residents and help the disadvantaged.

“That’s the nature of who we are,” Watts said. “Everything we do in government is regulation.”

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X-rays could offer answers to the Bayers Lake mystery walls

$5,000 grant to archeology society may find some clues to unidentified structure's origins.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 12:00 PM

The mystery walls, pictured in 2011. - VIA EHALIFAXHISTORY.CA

A fancy bit of archeological tech could finally find some answers about where the Bayers Lake mystery walls came from.

On Thursday the Community Planning and Economic Development standing committee approved a motion recommending city council award a one-time $5,475 grant to the Nova Scotia Archeology Society to try and figure out some clues about the inexplicable structure’s origins.

The grant will be used to rent an “X-Ray Flourescence” (pXRF) system in order to analyze soil chemistry in and around the site, located behind the intersection of Highways 102 and 103.

“The mystery walls of Bayers Lake, are just that; a mystery. Educated guesses say they were likely built during the early settlement of Halifax, in the late 1700s or early 1800s,” reads HalifaxTrails.ca (as quoted in Thursday’s staff report). “The most likely theories are that they were either used as a defensive structure for the back end of Halifax, a military supply depot or as a training ground for the siege of Fortress Louisbourg.”

While the site was known to some locals of the area, the mystery walls only gained attention from the rest of Halifax when land surveys for the Bayers Lake Business Park in the '90s brought concerns for their preservation.

The mystery walls consist of a small five-sided structure, a three-foot high wall that winds along for around 200 metres and a stone staircase. No one knows who built them, how old they are or what they were originally used for—which has naturally caused a great amount of speculation since their modern discovery. NightTime podcast recently did a deep dive on the subject.


The municipality conducted an archeological assessment of the area in 2010, and the Province has helped HRM protect the site while it tries to figure out where the hell these things came from.


“There’s next to no information about this,” Parks and Recreation manager Denise Schofield told the committee Thursday. “To actually try and find some historical value and determine what if anything should go forward on this, it’s more an education process.”

The pXRF analysis is a largely exploratory and non-destructive process, writes the NS Archeology Society. It doesn’t require any site disturbance other than the temporary removal of some sod while the X-rays are beamed down into the soil. According to the NSAS, it would be the first time the technology has been used in Nova Scotia for archeological research.

Saint Mary’s University is also donating an additional $2,000 towards the project's gear rental. Pending council's rubber stamp of approval, the work will be carried out by NSAS volunteers and SMU archeology students this fall.

Any findings will be the property of HRM, and made available to staff, the media and the public likely within six months of the research.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

No cooling-off period in new CAO’s contract

Jacques Dubé has a verbal agreement with the mayor to not go work for developers.

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 at 1:03 PM

Chief administrative officer and sharply dressed man, Jacques Dubé - VIA FACEBOOK
  • Chief administrative officer and sharply dressed man, Jacques Dubé
  • via Facebook

Halifax is hoping that Jacques Dubé is a man of his word.

The municipality’s new chief administrative officer doesn’t have a cooling-off period written into his employment agreement. 
Instead, Dubé has a verbal agreement with HRM promising not to work in the development industry after he’s done at city hall.


“We’re told legally that’s a very difficult thing because of the broad range of services a city’s involved in,” says mayor Mike Savage, “but he’s committed to me he won’t go work in the development industry in Halifax when he leaves his job.”

The former Moncton city manager was announced as Halifax’s newest CAO on Wednesday. He’ll replace former CAO Richard Butts, who infamously left city hall at the end of last year to become president of Clayton Developments.

Butts’ career change from top municipal bureaucrat to head of one of HRM’s largest development firms was met with sharp criticism from city councillors and members of the public.



At the time, Savage told reporters that a ‘cooling-off’ or buffer period would be looked at as part of the next CAO’s employment agreement to prevent a similar exit in the future.

That option was considered, confirms Savage, but ultimately dropped.

“It would be very difficult to say ‘You can’t go to any place the city does business with,’” says the mayor. “There virtually is nothing in the city that the city doesn’t have business with. I’ve asked for more information from legal on it, but in the meantime I’ve raised it with him verbally and he’s assured me he won’t go to the development industry when he finishes.”

HRM’s legal department is still looking into writing the non-compete clause into Dubé’s contract, says Savage, but the municipality wanted to “get the offer out the door.”

Dubé’s employment agreement does come with updated confidentiality clauses, prohibiting him from using any confidential information acquired during his time with HRM even after he leaves the job.

“The CAO cannot use that information (regardless of whether it is the municipality’s information or information belonging to a third party) for personal benefit or to the benefit of any other party,” explains manager of public affairs Breton Murphy via email. “Likewise any information acquired during the CAO’s tenure cannot be used to the detriment of any party.”

Murphy says previous CAOs also had a confidentiality clause in their employment agreements, but it’s been strengthened in the wake of Butts’ departure.

“It’s been made more robust, to just ensure that confidentiality is clear.”

Dubé starts his new job on September 12. Municipal solicitor John Traves will continue filling in as acting CAO until that time.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

High praise for Halifax's new CAO from Moncton councillors

Ex-Hub City manager announced today as HRM's new top bureaucrat.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 5:11 PM

Dalhousie University graduate Dubé is also a cyclist and triathlon runner. - VIA FACEBOOK

“Halifax just landed one hell of a city manager,” says five-term Moncton councillor Pierre Boudreau. “It’s going to be impossible to find another Jacques Dubé...Halifax has landed a jewel.”

Dub City’s former city manager was announced today as HRM’s new chief administrative officer. Dubé replaces former CAO Richard Butts, who left city hall at the start of 2016 for a job with Clayton Developments.

“We had a strong list of candidates, both locally and nationally,“ mayor Mike Savage writes in a press release. “I think Jacques will help us strengthen our communities and drive economic growth for the Halifax region.”


Dubé served as Moncton’s city manager from 2009 until his resignation this past week. He's also a past president of Service New Brunswick, former deputy minister for economic development, trade policy and population growth for Bernard Lord’s provincial government, and also served as chief of staff in Ottawa to regional minister Greg Thompson during Stephen Harper’s reign. 


In contrast to the CAO he’s replacing, several of his former colleagues had only positive things to say about their ex-employee. Boudreau and other councillors reached by The Coast, praised Dubé’s instrumental role in getting Moncton’s $107-million Downtown Centre complex off the ground. He also helped organize Moncton's U2 and AC/DC concerts on Magnetic Hill, as well as last summer's FIFA Women’s World Cup games.

“This is an exciting time for the municipality and I’m honoured to assume a leadership role to help its continued progress,” writes Dubé in today’s HRM press release. “I’m confident Regional Council’s strategic priorities will be delivered by working with staff and community partners.”

Dubé’s starting salary with HRM will be $270,000 per year—$64,000 less than Richard Butts was making upon his exit. But it’s still a significant raise from the $200,000 a year Dubé was making back in Moncton.

Unlike his predecessor, it doesn’t appear Dubé will be commuting to Halifax. CBC reports a “For Sale” sign recently went up in front of his New Brunswick home.


Dubé starts his new job on September 12.

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Emergency meeting needed to investigate hiring practices, says MLA

Tim Houston has some questions about Marilla Stephenson’s new job.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 4:23 PM

Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston, rest of province, curious how Marilla Stephenson got her latest job. - VIA PC CAUCUS
  • Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston, rest of province, curious how Marilla Stephenson got her latest job.
  • via PC caucus

Progressive Conservative MLA Tim Houston is calling for an emergency meeting of the Legislature's Standing Committee of Public Accounts, to investigate how Marilla Stephenson got her shiny new $106,000-a-year job.

Houston, a member of the public accounts committee, has sent a written request for the emergency meeting to chair Allan MacMaster to examine the hiring practices of the province’s Executive Council Office and the Public Service Commission.

“Nova Scotians expect public servants to be hired based on merit in a fair and transparent manner,” writes Houston in a press release. “What we’re seeing is a troubling pattern where fair hiring practices are routinely circumvented and even broken so that certain people can be hired, promoted or given pay increases.”

Former Chronicle Herald columnist Stephenson was hired as the government’s new managing director of corporate and external relations earlier this month, after being asked by members of the hiring committee for her feedback on the newly-created position’s job description. The job was posted internally to staff of the Executive Council Office, and Stephenson was the only applicant.

A freedom of information request by the Nova Scotia General Employees Union and written about by the CBC’s Michael Gorman detailed the correspondence between senior government officials and their applicant.

Stephenson was previously working an 18-month contract as part of Ivany Report think tank the One Nova Scotia Coalition before this job. As Gorman reports, Stephenson’s contract was scheduled to expire on March 31, which would have made her ineligible to apply for the new position as a current staffer. However, her contract was extended for another three months.

Premier Stephen McNeil has told reporters there was nothing underhanded about the hiring procedure, but critics and opposition members are crying foul.

Jason MacLean, president of the NSGEU, called the hiring unfair on Information Morning. Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie issued a release calling on McNeil to fully release all the currently-redacted emails between communications staff and senior officials regarding the hiring process.

“If the Premier has nothing to hide then he should release all the emails,” writes Baillie. “Give Nova Scotians the information and let them judge it for themselves.”

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Secret Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes map will be released

Council votes to release confidential info, but defers decisions on park until September.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Canoeists inside the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area. - IRWIN BARRETT
  • Canoeists inside the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area.
  • IRWIN BARRETT


A secret map that may hold the future of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes park will be released to the public, but it’ll take a few more weeks to see the light of day.

Halifax regional council unanimously voted on Tuesday to defer the release of map “3A” and its relevant materials until August 31, so that its contents can be discussed at council’s September 6 meeting.


That decision was reached after council spent over an hour talking in circles about whether the discussion to release the map had to take place in camera.

The debate centered around information that councillor Russell Walker apparently had in his possession showing “flaws” in the map. What those flaws related to, what the map showed and even why it was created, couldn’t be openly discussed.

“The reality is we’re having this weird conversation where we’re talking about the maps and we’re not talking about them,” said councillor Jennifer Watts.



Watts stressed 3A shouldn’t be given the “illusion” of importance as being HRM’s preferred choice for the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes lands. “It’s not.”


The map presumably shows a revised set of boundaries created by staff for the proposed regional park, and differs from the map previously used in the city’s Regional Plan that includes lands owned by private developers.

The proposed park boundaries as outlined in HRM's Regional Plan. Click here for a collection of other maps published about the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes park, including what the Annapolis Group and other private owners want to develop. - VIA CPAWNS
  • The proposed park boundaries as outlined in HRM's Regional Plan. Click here for a collection of other maps published about the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes park, including what the Annapolis Group and other private owners want to develop.
  • via CPAWNS


Those 1,300 acres along the area’s south-east corridor are mostly zoned urban reserve, and unable to be developed until after 2031. Land owners the Annapolis Group and Susie Lake Developments want $6 million from HRM for the properties. The municipality values the lands closer to $2.8 million.

Whatever the price, the cost HRM would have to pay for the property could considerably increase if the secondary planning process for the lands were initiated—as councillor Reg Rankin seems to want.


The District 12 councillor brought forward a motion at Tuesday’s meeting directing staff to start the public consultation and hearing process to amend the planned boundaries for the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes regional park, release map 3A to the public and proceed with secondary planning for those corridor lands not within the proposed park’s new boundaries.

Rankin’s motions were deferred to September 6 as well, but it should have been rejected outright according to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society biologist Chris Miller.


“There is absolutely no basis for proceeding with secondary planning now,” Miller writes in a statement to The Coast. “The biggest bargaining chip the city has to acquire the lands for the regional park is to grant development approvals outside the park in exchange for the lands. To advance secondary planning without acquiring the lands as part of that deal would likely be a fatal wound for the city and the regional park.”


Miller says even the recent facilitator’s report by Justice Heather Robertsonloudly criticized for siding with the developers—acknowledged that HRM has enough developable lands to meet residential growth needs for the next three decades. He hopes Rankin’s suggestions to open up the BMBCL lands to secondary planning will be soundly defeated come September.


“It's not clear why Rankin is bringing this forward,” Miller writes, “but lots of people are speculating.”

Remo Zaccagna, with Local Xpress, reports that Rankin declined repeated requests to clarify if he’s in favour of development on the proposed park lands during a tense scrum outside of council chambers.

Global News reported yesterday that the Annapolis Group’s Hawthorne Capital donated $2,500 to mayor Mike Savage during the last election, $1,000 to Rankin and deputy mayor Matt Whitman, and $500 each to councillors Linda Mosher and Barry Dalrymple.

Council is currently awaiting two reports about Blue Mountain-Birch Coves Lake: one a response to the facilitator’s report, and another containing 1,500 public submissions about the proposed park. Those items, along with map 3A, will be discussed in September.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bicycle trailers and electric scooters banned from harbour ferries

UPDATED: Cyclists towing child trailers can still board ferries “until further notice.”

Posted By on Tue, Jul 26, 2016 at 4:18 PM

Just buy a car, kid. It'll be easier. - VIA ISTOCK
  • Just buy a car, kid. It'll be easier.
  • via iStock

UPDATE: According to its Twitter account, Halifax Transit has altered its plans and cyclists towing child trailers “MAY” board ferries until further notice. Two-wheeled electric scooters are still banned. An updated announcement is scheduled for Wednesday.

“Transit will work with stakeholders and community to develop other solutions that meet regulations and are safe for all passengers,” the transit authority writes. “We regret any inconvenience or concern this announcement may have caused for any of our passengers.”

———

Halifax Transit has outlawed bicycle trailers of any kind on its harbour ferries, effective immediately.

Any trailer, including the child/grocery/dog-carrying kind, is banned from boarding the ferries, along with any two-wheeled electric scooters (gas-powered scooters were already not permitted).

The rule change came about “due to concerns for passenger safety and inadequate storage,” according to a press release. New HRM spokesperson Adam Richardson says the vehicles recently became a problem due to the Big Lift bridge redecking.

“Initially, people were trying to use the ferry when the Macdonald Bridge was closed to avoid going around to the MacKay Bridge,” writes Richardson in an email. “Now they are using the ferry system with these vehicles.”

That’s caused Halifax Transit to become “increasingly aware” of the safety issues the vehicles create, and that—along with some complaints from other passengers—created the ban.

“The length of these trailers limits their maneuverability inside the ferry,” writes Richardson, who adds that Halifax Transit may “consider a refinement” to the new policy allowing passengers with young children to ride the ferry if they decouple their trailer firsts. So long as that doesn't “present a cumbersome situation," he says.

“If both parents are present and the trailer is decoupled from the bike, staff could consider permitting them past the gate.”

Until then, as the Big Lift is still ongoing, the only way across the harbour with a bike trailer is a 40 kilometre ride around the Bedford Basin.

Electric bikes and Segways are still permitted on the ferries, but must not “block access” to the loading doors or impede passengers.

“Passengers with bicycles or Segways are asked to be courteous and allow other passengers to board or depart the ferry first,” reads today’s press release.

The Halifax Cycling Coalition, meanwhile, says it’s reached out for more information from Halifax Transit.

“We are extremely disappointed with the the news that bicycles with trailers of any kind are not permitted on Halifax Transit ferries," coalition member Kelsey Lane writes to The Coast over email.

“The prohibition is a significant barrier to the Halifax/Dartmouth connection. The city should be eliminating not introducing barriers to active transportation in order to encourage cycling and other heathy modes of transportation. People who ride a bicycle are still unable to use the McDonald Bridge while it is under construction. The Big Lift shuttle does not accommodate bike trailers or strollers, and therefore this ruling to ban bicycle trailers from the Halifax Transit ferries has severed the Halifax/Dartmouth connection for the many people who use a bike with a trailer. The reasoning for this change is unclear however the negative implications of such the decision to people who ride bicycles is obvious.”

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Police release statistics about taxi driver sexual assaults

There have been 12 reported cases in the last four years, five in 2016 alone.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 3:25 PM

Police say most of the assaults occurred between 8:30pm and 4:30 am on weekends, with passengers picked up from the downtown core. - THE COAST
  • Police say most of the assaults occurred between 8:30pm and 4:30 am on weekends, with passengers picked up from the downtown core.
  • THE COAST

In response to the recent string of sexual assaults involving taxi drivers, on Monday Halifax Regional Police took the unusual step of releasing a breakdown of similar incidents that have occurred in the last five years.

“We’re providing context so citizens can make informed decisions about their personal safety, and also outlining the police response so people are aware of what we’re doing to address the issue,” acting public information officer Alicia Joseph writes in a press release.

According to HRP, there have been 12 sexual assaults involving cab drivers since 2012, five of which occurred in 2016. There were three incidents last year, one each in 2014 and 2013 and two cases in 2012.

Six suspects were identified by police in seven of those cases; all of them men between the ages of 30 to 50, who commonly had dark hair and “spoke with an accent.”

Their behaviour fits the pattern of recently reported cases of sexual assault. The driver either has a lone female passenger or waits until only one woman is left in his cab. He often refuses payment for the drive, and asks personal questions or attempts to flatter his passenger.

In nine of the 12 cases, the sexual assaults involved the driver touching the woman “in a sexual manner” and forcibly trying to kiss them.

All of the incidents happened with passengers picked up in the downtown core, most often on weekends during the spring and summer.

Police say the Sexual Assault Investigation Team (SAIT) is thoroughly investigating each file, and beat officers as well as members of the Liquor Enforcement Unit and Quick Response Unit are engaging with downtown patrons and door staff seeking any information on suspicious activity.

Despite those efforts, charges have been laid in only five of the 12 cases. Three other cases are under active investigation, and three were closed due to a “lack of solvability” but can be reopened if new information comes to light. The remaining case was closed at the request of the victim.

Halifax Police recommend calling a taxi instead of hailing one so there’s always a record of which driver has been dispatched, as well as taking note of the roof light number, the driver’s license and their photo. The department also recommends sitting in the back, right-hand seat as it’s the farthest from the driver. Most of the assaults reported to police happened when the passenger is in the front seat.

“We have said this many times but must reiterate once again that the women who have been sexually assaulted have done absolutely nothing wrong and have every right to believe it’s safe to get into a taxi,” Joseph writes. “It’s the perpetrators who are purposely targeting young women accessing their taxis. The offenders must stop this unacceptable and violent behaviour.”

Police are asking anyone with information about these incidents or any others to contact them at 902-490-5016. Anonymous tips can also be sent to Crime Stoppers by calling toll-free 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), submitting a secure web tip at crimestoppers.ns.ca or texting a tip be sending Tip 202 + your message to 274637.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

HΛLIFΛX logo will be less bold on community signs

Minor changes coming to HRM's $435,000 brand identity.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 8:06 PM

The current too-bold-for-its-own-good "HΛLIFΛX" branding on a Burnside sign. - VIA MATTATALL SIGNS
  • The current too-bold-for-its-own-good "HΛLIFΛX" branding on a Burnside sign.
  • via Mattatall signs

Halifax's logo is staying on some of your community signs, Dartmouth, but at least it’ll be smaller and harder to read.



An information item headed to council next week says the chief administrative office and HRM’s corporate communications are developing new applications for the municipality’s pervasive branding that will “better reflect brand values and pride of individual community identity.”

That will be achieved, in part, by making the new HΛLIFΛX logo tinier and less noticeable on some signs, and removing it altogether from community noticeboards (see below).

screen_shot_2016-07-22_at_4.38.04_pm.png

Prepared by Bruce DeBaie, managing director of corporate communications, the information report comes out of council unanimously voting back in February to examine how the municipality had applied its fancy new logo. That motion was itself a watered-down version of councillor Gloria McCluskey's request to look at covering up and removing the brand from community signage in areas outside the old Halifax city limits.

“We are hurting, your worship, in Dartmouth,” said McCluskey at the time to mayor Mike Savage. “We just want our identity back.”

It's been over two years since HRM voted to incorporate the new and blue design from Revolve Branding in the municipality’s corporate coat of arms, logo and flag.


Almost immediately upon its debut, Dartmouth residents expressed dismay with the design for seemingly erasing the history of Halifax's sister city. That outcry increased with the appearance of the new logo on Dartmouth community signs in Burnside and Sullivans Pond, as well as the flags near Alderney Landing.

The new logo was never intended to “dilute or undermine the identity and value of local communities anywhere in the region,” writes DeBaie. “On the contrary, the new brand intends to promote the strengths and celebrate the characteristics of each community by putting our collective assets, values and personality forward and showing the world what a great place our region is to live, work, visit and invest.”

The community signs, DeBaie adds, previously had a larger HRM logo in a more prominent top-centre location. The new logo is smaller and placed as a footer on the bottom of the signs, but ironically it stands out more because of the simplified design. “It strategically reflects the brand promise to ‘be bold.’”

screen_shot_2016-07-22_at_4.36.15_pm.png

The staff report also breaks down the total costs to date for implementing the new signage, which comes out to $434,987 in development, launch and brand promotion (see the breakdown below).


Those costs are outside of standard budgeted amounts. Buses and ferries, for example, were only branded with the new logo during scheduled maintenance work when they would have been re-painted with the old colours anyway. That said, the new colour scheme did cost $600 more per bus for some reason, which works out to an incremental cost of $48,000 for bus repainting and an extra $25,000 to “create the specific visual identity of [Halifax Transit’s] assets.”

DeBaie notes that the “consistent, predictable brand management system” for the new logo did lead to “significant” efficiencies in HRM’s corporate communications budget, and created a savings of $225,000.

screen_shot_2016-07-22_at_4.56.25_pm.png

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Council couldn’t have stopped Honda expansion says information report

“Homes Not Hondas” seemingly over before it began.

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 3:49 PM

Hondas beat homes. - THE COAST
  • Hondas beat homes.
  • THE COAST

It’s largely too little, too late now, but an information item before city council says HRM wouldn’t have been able to stop Rob Steele’s parking lot proliferation even if it tried.

The report originates from a petition signed by more than 1,000 community members that was brought to council back on May 10. It was a civic attempt to stop Colonial Honda owner Rob Steele from demolishing 17 residential properties on Fern Lane, McCully Street and May Street to make way for an expanded dealership.

Signees of the petition had asked HRM to explore options preventing that destruction in order to maintain the neighbourhood’s residential character. Council didn't take any of those actions, but it did ask for a staff report addressing some of the community's concerns on how this happened and what could have been done to stop it. Turns out, not all that much.

“Prohibiting the demolition of privately owned buildings and the expansion of the existing car dealership is not possible given the existing authority held by Regional Council,” says the document, prepared by planning applications manager Carl Purvis.

All of the property around the Honda dealership is zoned for commercial use, and Steele, as-of-right, is free to turn a two-storey home into extra asphalt showroom space. If the city had intervened, Purvis suggests Steele would have grounds to take legal action.

“Canadian case law (Boyd Builders case [1965] S.C.R. 408) provides that the owner of the existing auto dealership enjoys certain prima facie rights to utilize their recently acquired lands in a manner consistent with the rules under which permits were originally issued,” reads the info item. “As such, the existing development rights afforded to the property owner cannot be removed in this manner.”

The municipality was also in no position of authority to do anything about Steele’s demolition permits. The Charter allows council to intervene in the demolition of heritage properties only. The municipality doesn’t “and cannot” address issues like the fabric of the community, architectural merit or future proposed developments on non-heritage sites scheduled for demolition.

Oddly, even when HRM can prohibit the demolition of a registered heritage property, Nova Scotia’s Heritage Property Act says the owner only has to wait three years and then they're free to tear the structure down.

“Where the municipality does not approve the application, the property owner may, notwithstanding Section 17, make the alteration or carry out the demolition at any time after three years from the date of the application but not more than four years after the date of the application.”

Purvis concludes that the Centre Plan—HRM’s new development bible that’s expected to be brought to council by end of 2016—will provide solutions for altering existing out-of-date bylaws and making sure future residential neighbourhoods don’t suddenly find themselves in the middle of a car lot.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Halifax taxi drivers keep sexually assaulting their passengers

Have you ever felt unsafe in a cab? We want to know about it.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 5:08 PM

Would cameras make you feel safer getting into a cab? - VIA ISTOCK
  • Would cameras make you feel safer getting into a cab?
  • via iStock

For the third fourth time in as many three months, a taxi driver in Halifax has been accused of sexually assaulting their passenger.

The latest incident happened July 17. It follows an incident the previous weekend when Halifax Regional Police responded to a call from a 20-year-old woman who’d allegedly been “touched in a sexual manner and kissed by a cab driver without her consent.”

Both the caller and the cab were located in the 1800 block of Barrington Street and the driver was taken into custody. A 44-year-old Halifax man will be in court on September 8 to face charges.

The two most recent cases fit a pattern of crimes from the last two years that has councillors calling for new oversights and the industry’s leaders calling for dashboard cameras inside vehicles.

By chance, a cab I took this week already had a dashboard camera set up. The driver told me he bought it for $100 at Best Buy as a way to make his passengers feel safer and also protect himself against theft. But even that system isn’t perfect. It only records while the car is on, and he only keeps the video files for a week before deleting them.

A $100 Best Buy bought dashboard camera. - THE COAST
  • A $100 Best Buy bought dashboard camera.
  • The Coast


Aside from cameras, Halifax Taxi Drivers Owners Association president Dave Buffett told CBC’s Maritime Noon this week that better education is needed for drivers. 


“For me it's astounding, it's absolutely astounding, that any adult would not know that's inappropriate. Absolutely astounding...But we do have a multi-national driving pool and there are drivers from areas where that might not be as unacceptable as it is in Canada, and there's where the education component is necessary.”
—Dave Buffet

On April 29, Seyed Mirsaeid-Ghazi was charged by Halifax police for sexually touching a 21-year-old passenger in his cab back in October of 2015. A week later on May 6, a woman was reportedly assaulted in a black van that picked up her around 3am on Argyle and Prince streets. The woman fled and hid until the vehicle left the area.


Then on June 8, a 25-year-old woman was assaulted after being picked up by a cab at the corner of Grafton and Blowers. Police said the driver later dropped the woman off and tried to kiss her before telling her there was “no charge” for the ride.

And that’s just this year. In May of 2015, Bassam Aladin Al-Rawi was charged with sexually assaulting a passenger when police found an unconscious woman, naked from the waist down, in his backseat.


Search warrants obtained by reporter Sherry Borden Colley state that two other female passengers have made sexual assault claims against Al-Rawi.

Al-Rawi initially had his license suspended, but it was reinstated by HRM’s Appeals Standing Committee with stipulations that he’s limited to the hours between 6am and 6pm and required to have a camera.

Likewise, Ahror Mamadiev had his taxi license revoked after being found guilty of sexual assault in August, 2014 (he was given a conditional discharge) but the standing committee allowed him the chance to reapply for the license this September.


Those are just the cases that have been reported. Like any type of sexual assault, the number of unreported cases is quite possibly far higher. Then again, maybe not. We’d like to try and get a better understanding of the problem but we need your help.


Have you ever felt unsafe in a taxi? Has a cab driver ever touched, assaulted, harassed or creeped you out while you were in their vehicle? Tell us about it by emailing news@thecoast.ca. 


Are you a cab driver who feels the industry needs more regulation (or better enforcement of the regulations that do exist) to protect drivers and keep passengers safe? We want to hear from you as well.



All names and any identifiable details will be withheld, but for extra security there are plenty of disposable anonymous email services available online.

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Here’s the new $23-million DalPlex replacement

South end university wants new fitness centre ready for 2018.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 11:33 AM

The new hotness. - VIA DALHOUSIE
  • The new hotness.
  • via Dalhousie

Dalhousie University students will be able to enjoy (and pay for) their school’s brand new fitness centre come Dal’s 200th anniversary.

The new DalPlex will sit on the former site of Eliza Ritchie Hall on South Street, right next to the current DalPlex, which will remain open for athletics and stressful exam writing even after the new centre is built.

The 57,000-square foot facility will include fitness spaces, four large multi-purpose rooms, non-gendered washrooms and three change rooms (men’s, women’s and “universal”).

“Dalplex has served us well, but we’ve outgrown it and students have long told us that they want updated facilities, modern equipment and bright, pleasant workout spaces,” director of facility and business services Kathie Wheadon writes in a release from back in May.

All told the fitness centre is expected to cost $23.3 million and will be largely funded by a new $180 annual student fee. That fee won’t be applied until after the facility is built, as opposed to the general three percent tuition hike that Dalhousie approved this year for all students.

The university’s Board of Governors also approved a 10 percent tuition increase for engineering students, 12 percent increase for pharmacy students and 17 percent increase for agriculture students that will all be phased in over three years.

According to Dalhousie, the new fitness centre will be the first major addition to fitness and recreation facilities at the Halifax campus in three decades.

The university is also finalizing plans for a new $18 million arena down the road at 5846 South Street—built on land leased from the province for a “nominal amount” and expected to be primarily financed through fundraising.

A construction tender for the new fitness centre closes July 27. Construction is expected to start later this summer, and be completed in 2018.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Gary Burrill to challenge Joachim Stroink for Halifax Chebucto

Liberal MLA will have to fight off NDP leader Burrill, and PC candidate John Wesley Chisholm.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 5:56 PM

Burrill hopes to take the same seat previously represented by former provincial and federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough. - JORDAN BLACKBURN
  • Burrill hopes to take the same seat previously represented by former provincial and federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough.
  • JORDAN BLACKBURN


The New Democratic Party wants to take back Halifax Chebucto.


Party leader Gary Burrill announced Tuesday morning that he will seek the NDP’s nomination for the central Halifax riding in the next provincial election.


Halifax Chebucto is a longtime NDP stronghold, having been held almost continuously since 1981 by both former leader Alexa McDonough and retired MLA Howard Epstein (Liberal Jay Abbass briefly represented the riding from 1993-98).

“It was in Halifax Chebucto 35 years ago that Alexa McDonough was first elected as an MLA for our Party,” writes Burrill in a press release. “More recently, Howard Epstein served the Halifax Chebucto community for 15 years. It is a privilege to offer myself to continue their contributions.”

Joachim Stroink took the electoral district in 2013 after Epstein retired and the NDP’s one-term government folded to Stephen McNeil’s Liberals.


It was the same election in which Burrill lost his seat as MLA for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. He was elected the party’s leader earlier this year, but is still without a seat at Province House.

Aside from the riding’s history with the New Democrats, the NDP are likely looking to capitalize on criticisms Stroink and the Liberals have received from peninsula-living university students and film industry workers. The Progressive Conservatives also seem to smell blood in the water, having nominated film producer John Wesley Chisholm to take on Stroink.

Still no word if there will actually be an election called in 2016. Burrill’s uncontested nomination meeting will take place July 26.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Parker Street Food & Furniture Bank desperately needs school supplies

Here's how you can help.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 6:45 PM

Back-to-school shopping is a lot more fun when you're doing it to help other people. - VIA ISTOCK
  • Back-to-school shopping is a lot more fun when you're doing it to help other people.
  • via iStock

Feed Nova Scotia isn’t the only charitable organization in dire of donations this summer.

A “dramatic increase” in low-income families has the Parker Street Food & Furniture Bank asking HRM businesses and residents for help meeting the demand for school supplies come September.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people coming to us for help with food this year, so we anticipate that this will also mean an increase in those needing help with school supplies,” program coordinator Cynthia Louis writes in a press release. “We’re calling on individuals and local businesses to start holding school supplies drives or donate financially to help meet the demand.”


Parker Street has been helping low-income families with school supplies for the last nine years, and demand is already outpacing supply. Last year, the organization says 750 families registered for its Back to School program—about 50 more than the organization was expecting.


Louis writes that it costs $50 for all the school supplies needed by an elementary student, but that price can jump as high as $150 for junior high students who often need calculators and USB drives.

If you’d like to help, donations can be arranged by email, by phoning 902-425-2125 (ext. 205) or by going here. The food and furniture bank will be accepting cash and school supplies until August 28 to get everything ready before classes begin on September 6. 


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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

27 developments that are changing Halifax's cityscape

Do you like condos, HRM? Here, have thousands of them.

Posted By and on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 1:38 PM

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Halifax's building boom has a way of getting in your face, whether you actively avoid the sidewalk closures, or not. Cranes are towering, drills be drillin', and neighbourhoods are being modified and developed. Whether it's all the result of densifying urban plans or an artificially-propped up real estate market remains to be seen. In any event, it's giving the peninsula a facelift. Here are some details on what's to come.

———

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Spring Garden West

Dexel Developments is proposing a massive two-towered structure for the corner of Spring Garden Road and Carleton Street, reaching a height of 28-storeys. Public engagement sessions on the project took place over the spring, and a finalized design application is scheduled to be submitted to HRM in September.

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The new Discovery Centre

Formerly on Barrington, the Discovery Centre is moving on to much bigger things on Lower Water Street. Nova Scotia Power gifted the science museum with 40,000 square feet of its corporate space along the waterfront. It's currently scheduled to open sometime in December. Check out the construction timeline for more info.

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The old Discovery Centre

The corner of Sackville and Barrington Street that currently houses the Discovery Centre (until July 28) will soon be torn down and replaced with Jason Ghosn’ 16-storey mixed-use development, which is being built jointly with the Green Lantern redevelopment next door.

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The Green Lantern

This downtown heritage property is getting a facelift, thanks to property owners Jason and Jordan Ghosn and their investment in restoring the building’s original facade. The renovations will include an additional nine floors, multiple new entrances and an architectural copper-esque homage on the roof paying tribute to the building’s namesake.

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Former St. Pat’s High School site

The former Catholic high school for peninsula Halifax was torn down over the last year, and is now being prepared for future sale by the municipality.

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Monaghan Square

Young Street Equities is building two 17-storey condo and apartment towers on a shared commercial base at 6100 Young Street (across the street from the Superstore).

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The Dillon

George Giannoulis and Mosaik Properties are erecting The Dillon at the corner of Sackville and Market streets (the former home of Night Magic Fashions). The glass condominiums will tower above a base of restored brick in the 19-century building, which sits across the street from the Nova Centre.

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NFB Building

The National Film Board building on Barrington was gutted by a destructive fire in the '90s, and is now finally being redeveloped after 25 years of vacancy. The current historical facade will be maintained for the future residential and retail space.

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Queen’s Marque

At five acres and 450,000 square feet, the Queen’s Marque is a huge undertaking by the Armour Group and a massive investment by the Waterfront Development Corporation. Three large residential and commercial buildings will enclose 75,000 square feet of public space leading to a set of granite steps going down into the harbour. The project has an ambitious completion date of 2019.

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The Doyle Block

The newly vacant lot in front of the Halifax Central Library. Yeah, you know the one. Westwood Developments has proposed a seven storey mixed-use complex that’s currently under construction now that the old BMO building and attached properties have been bulldozed. Some residents are fighting the proposed design, which will partially block the Central Library’s view of Citadel Hill.

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Cunard Block

Southwest Properties is developing this 1.5-acre site, located at the intersection of Lower Water and Morris streets. The 17-storey, $75-million project will fill in the parking lot between Bishop’s Landing and the Emera building.

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The Pavillon

Replacing the CBC Radio building at South Park and Sackville will be this 13-storey condo development that’s currently under construction. Once complete, it will be neighbours with incorporate the redeveloped YMCA .

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The Roy

A 22-storey, high-end condominium building currently under construction at 1650 Granville Street (but bordering Barrington at its rear). Louis Reznick’s Starfish Properties is developing the swank tower, which will feature a 24-hour concierge service, indoor gym and theatre and its own “pet grooming station.”

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The Alexander

A residential high-rise currently under construction and developed by Killam Properties, located adjacent to the Brewery Market downtown (at Bishop and Hollis).

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The Keep

An eight-storey Quinpool Road fortress of condos. A “Keep” refers to the strongest structure in a castle, and is apparently being used as a metaphor by developer Doug Reid for the building’s central location in the city.

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The Pearl

An eight-storey mixed-residential under construction next to Citadel Hill by Grafton Developments. The Pearl started on Rainnie Drive, before city council altered the streets and changed that portion of Rainnie to an extension of Gottingen.

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Gorsebrook Park

Urban Capital is developing this eight and 10 storey shared residential complex after buying the Wellington Street property from local firm Dino Capital.

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Southport

Urban Capital (with Killam Properties) is also building these loft-style condos, located on the far south end on Barrington Street between Inglis and South. The building’s name and its shipping container-inspired design is a nod to the history of Halifax’s ports.

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The Maple

A 21-storey residential high-rise, also from Southwest Properties, currently under construction at 1583 Hollis Street.

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3090 Oxford Street

W.M. Fares is building a five-storey mixed use development, comprised of ground level commercial with 27 residential dwellings above, on the site of a former service station at the corner of Oxford Street and Bayers Road.

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Point North

Genivar Banc is building this 19-storey mixed use tower that’s nearing completion at 3065 Robie Street.

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Harris East

The 56-unit, multicoloured complex from Atlantic Developments on Harris Street appears to be virtually finished.

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Q Lofts

Two blocks over from Harris East on Roberts Street is this six-storey condo complex by the Polycorp Group.

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Midtown North

The Westwood Group, Architecture 49 and engineers at WSP are putting forward this ambitious proposal for the block of Robie Street between Almon and St. Albans (thankfully sparing Mary’s Cafe and the Good Robot brewery).

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2710 Agricola

WSP, on behalf of “Persimmon Properties,” is proposing this seven-storey mixed-use building on the Agricola Street lot currently housing the axe-throwing Timber Lounge. A separate three-unit building will be built facing Fern Lane on the same property.

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Quinpool/Robie towers

At the corner of Robie Street and Quinpool Road is the site of three proposed high-rise towers being jointly considered by HRM’s planning department. Westwood Developments wants to build an 18-storey structure on the site of the former Cruikshank’s Funeral Home, while Armco’s APL Properties is planning for two towers (11 and 22 storeys, respectively) at 6009 and 6017 Quinpool.

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Ben’s Bakery redevelopment

Danny Chedrawe’s Westwood Developments is still finalizing concepts for this 10,000 square metre site between Quinpool Road, Pepperell and Shirley Street. Expect condos, townhouses and possibly a community oven.

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Vol 24, No 9
July 28, 2016

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