DowntownGuy 
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Re: “Not so close to my backyard

My name is Ross Cantwell and I am the volunteer president of the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia. We are a nonprofit society that is concerned about the rising cost of housing in Halifax, and in particular the Gottingen Street area. Our project for the former MET property will include a 50/50% blend of market and affordable rate RENTAL housing – our intent is not to build condominiums.

Statistics Canada 2006 census data indicates that more than half of all households in HRM that rent are paying 30% or more of their income to their landlord. The Housing Trust’s concern is that young residents who have grown up on the Halifax Peninsula, or new residents to the area, are being priced out of the neighbourhood. This includes people who work as cashiers, serving coffee, administrative assistants, office cleaners, etc. Many people in these types of jobs make too much money to qualify for income supplements, while at the same time, don’t make enough money to be able to afford a good quality apartment. While all the new condominiums in the neighbourhood are a welcome and existing addition, unless you have a $20,000 down payment and the ability to quality for a mortgage, these units are likely well beyond your financial means.

The Housing Trust has been working on its plans for this property for more than 3 years. During this time we had meetings with: the business stakeholders from the former Gottingen Street Merchants Association (in 2011 we removed several floors of the building in response to concerns); a general public meeting with the community (2012), and a Public Information Meeting as part of the HRM planning approvals process (2013). In 2013 we formed a Community Liaison Committee (CLC) to obtain specific input to the design of our projects and to ensure that we were meeting the expectations of local residents. As a result of these meetings with the CLC the design of our buildings have changed dramatically (e.g., the first two floors of apartments on Maitland Street were converted into townhome style units for families, we have added rooftop decks and a community room, changes in the size of windows to make blinds and window coverings less expensive, changes to the colour scheme for the buildings, etc.). During this process we have also had a number of meetings and conversations with Ms. Waque and in response to her concerns reduced the height of our building up against her property to two floors.

One unique aspect of the redevelopment of the MET property is that 25 of our 58 affordable units will be set-aside for active and retired artists through collaboration with the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL), another nonprofit society. During preliminary conversations with PAL, there was some discussion about creating theatre rehearsal space within the new development. However based on concerns expressed by Ms. Waque, we eliminated that space with that idea that rehearsals or performances would likely occur at her facility. The Housing Trust and PAL want to make sure that whatever we do adds to the vitality of the Bus Stop Theatre, and bringing 25 new artists to a building three doors down is sure to do this.

Before last weeks approval, our property was zoned C-2. This zoning allows both residential and commercial land uses, and according to the local height precincts and land use bylaws, we had the right to build a 4 to 5 storey wall directly up against Ms. Waque’s property line. In our desire to be a good neighbour, we quickly dismissed this option and instead, chose to work with HRM staff and the community to negotiate a development agreement for the property. Based on our discussions with HRM planning staff and stakeholders in the neighbourhood we adjusted our plans to include a 2 storey firewall against her south boundary, which steps back 10 feet before continuing up. We have made similar accommodations for the Alter Ego’s / Backpackers Hostel, and have also changed the entrance ramp into the building from Gottingen Street so that this new entry will line up with the adjacent laneway that runs from Gottingen to Maitland Street (which we are hoping to rename Raymond Taavel Lane).

Mr. Waque’s concern is to ensure that she has a viable development option for her back lot; this is a reasonable request. In response to her concern we prepared a concept plan for her property that shows the ability to build a three storey building, which would allow her to build nine 600 square foot one bedroom apartment units. We have shared this design idea with Ms. Waque, yet she continues to say that we have compromised the development capability of her property; this is not true.

In summary, we have made a number of changes to our designs over the past three years in order to address the concerns of the community and adjacent property owners. At this point we can’t make further changes to the building envelope without compromising the financial viability of our project. As always, we remain open to continuing a dialogue with Ms. Waque. For more information on the Housing Trust, please go to

www.housingtrust.ca

Sincerely
Ross Cantwell, President

19 likes, 5 dislikes
Posted by Ross Cantwell on 06/26/2014 at 2:44 PM

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