Condo conundrum

Mitchell’s Environmental Treasures building may become condos soon.

Big changes are coming to the heart of the Gottingen Street business district, threatening, say poverty activists, to eliminate much-needed affordable housing options and change the character of the neighbourhood forever.

Wayne Robert Mitchell, owner of Mitchell's Environmental Treasures, the universally (and legally) condemned eyesore at 2183 Gottingen, has entered into contract for the sale of the building, confirms Brian Church, Mitchell's attorney. The sale won't be complete until April, says Church, in part to give Mitchell enough time to remove his considerable belongings from the property.

The new owner of the property will be Peter Polley, whose PolyCorp Developments Inc. is building the new Spice condominium at Barrington and Cornwallis streets.

The Coast has been covering the saga of the building for many years, as it continued its slide into increasing disrepair. After its roof partially collapsed, city officials moved in to condemn the building, and for the past six months a protracted legal battle ensued as Mitchell resisted the city's eviction battles.

Presently, the store is full of rain-soaked junk, and nearby residents complain of rats coming from the building. Mitchell has posted dozens of newspaper articles about the situation on the building's front door.

There's no doubt the structure will be razed, which raises the question: What will replace it?

Polley did not return repeated phone calls for comment, and has not publicly stated his intentions for the MET property. But given that his business is constructing the nearby Spice project, activists fear Polley will likewise build condos at the Gottingen site.

"That building was a hazard, but building condos is also a hazard," says Capp Larsen, from the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty.

The MET news comes just weeks after Turnstile Pottery and Soul Clippers Hairstyling were evicted from 2207 Gottingen, four doors down from the MET building. That building was bought by British Columbia-based Cornerstone Investments, and is being converted to condos. Larsen, one of a handful of residents who lives above the stores, is also being evicted. (The businesses have re-opened a few blocks away---Turnstile on Agricola Street and Soul Clippers on Cornwallis Street.)

"That's such a blatant example of gentrification," says Larsen. "It's a perfectly good building with affordable housing and locally owned businesses that serve the community. And they're taking it over, evicting the tenants, putting in condos, and turning around and selling the building. There's no investment in the community, no investment in the people who live here. It's ethically and morally wrong."

Larsen worries that as more condos are built---there are at least a half-dozen condo projects in various states of construction in the neighbourhood---rents on existing affordable housing units will be pushed up.

Also, she says, the new condos will bring upscale residents who will frown upon the various service providers that populate Gottingen. Larsen specifically mentions Direction 180, a methadone clinic, but the street also houses a Salvation Army drop-in centre and various other organizations dedicated to helping low-income people.

"There's going to be pressure to push out the service providers," says Larsen. "Services and low-income people become displaced."

What should replace the MET building? "Affordable housing or businesses that cater to the people who live here," says Larsen.

As they now stand, development standards for Gottingen Street limit new construction to 80 feet in height, rooflines to 150 feet in width, and require that a third of street-levels be dedicated to windows---to bring commercial space to the street.

But the standards do not speak to the affordability issue---many other municipalities require a percentage of construction be set aside for affordable housing, says Dawn Sloane, councillor for the area.

"And it's real affordability, defined by law, not the way we use <0x2018>affordability' here, as just less expensive than the most high-end place."

Sloane says affordable housing requirements should be part of the revision of city planning known as HRM By Design and written into the Regional Plan, the document controlling all development in the city.

"We talk about having an affordable housing standard. Everyone around the table says it's necessary, but we never see it."

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