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An open letter to Rob Steele 

There is more to good corporate citizenship than simply following the law.

click to enlarge THE COAST
  • The Coast

The Steele Auto Group has bought and is demolishing 17 homes in order to expand the parking lot at its Honda dealership on Robie Street. Company CEO Rob Steele has refused repeated requests to meet with neighbours, including to discuss ways to save the last house slated for demolition—the purple house on the corner of May and Robie. The following is an open letter from one of those neighbours, the Ecology Action Centre.

Dear Mr. Steele:

Welcome to the neighbourhood. We’re sorry you had to knock down so much of it, but we understand your reason, which is to make room to sell as many cars and make as much money as possible.

Because you refused to meet or talk to your new neighbours, you don’t know why we wanted to save perfectly good homes you tore down to put up your parking lot.

Halifax as a whole won’t suffer greatly from your relentless pursuit of self-interest, but it would suffer a very great deal if other businesses made decisions similar to yours in many other neighbourhoods. What makes Halifax what it is would soon be lost, just as what makes our neighbourhood special is being lost.

click to enlarge Mark Butler is policy director for the Ecology Action Centre.
  • Mark Butler is policy director for the Ecology Action Centre.
Mr. Steele, you irreparably damaged the character of one small neighbourhood, and your disregard of your neighbours told us in no uncertain terms that you could not care less. You still have an opportunity to redeem that reputation. The purple house on the corner of Robie and May is scheduled for demolition. Stop it.

We have found, over years of dealing with government, business, and other organizations, that most fit in one of three categories. There are those that honestly care about their community, understand that they are part of a community and contribute positively; there are those that balance business and community and try to find common ground; and there are those that put business first and the community is on its own. We were disappointed to discover you fall into the final category, but you could make an argument that you belong in the second, by saving one house and giving up the six parking spaces it would provide.

Had you met your neighbours, they would have told you that by saving that one house you could save much of the integrity of May Street. The decision, at the end of the day, is clearly yours but had you shown the character to at least listen, this letter would not have been necessary.

We remain upset by what you are doing to our North End neighbourhood. We are hopeful that something can be salvaged. In this part of town, May Street is—or was—an iconic street scape; the kind of street the city should be holding on to as it attempts to build downtown population density.

The homes you knocked down also provided affordable housing—a commodity in distressingly short supply on the peninsula.

In our own organization, we try to walk the talk. EAC had the choice to demolish its 1880s building and construct a new building. Instead, we determined that the environmentally responsible choice was to renovate. We now have one of the most energy efficient office buildings in Canada.

We know you didn’t break any bylaws or zoning rules, but we had hoped Honda and Steele Auto appreciated that there is more to good corporate citizenship than simply following the law.

Again, welcome to the neighbourhood. Your new neighbours will likely show your property more respect than you have earned, or shown to us.

Mark Butler


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