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On approval 

A development group starts the process of trying to get the go ahead for its new waterfront project.

There’s a prime piece of land, some 15,000 square metres big, between Salter Street and Bishop’s Landing on the Halifax waterfront. It currently sits as a large parking lot space. But city planners and a development group are now looking at the site with new eyes, hoping to turn the spot into the city’s brightest new attraction.

The details behind the proposal of a new waterfront development project along the city’s harbour will be revealed to the Halifax community at a public information meeting tonight at Queen Elizabeth High School.

The Centennial Group hopes to revitalize the area with the construction of a new public park and other amenities.

A 2004 press release fleshes out the plan. Among the attractions are an urban garden, a high-end apartment building, a hotel, a tourist information centre, a public park, a skating rink during winter months and an observation tower overlooking the Halifax Harbour. There will be a walkway that cuts through the middle, which visitors will be able to access from the downtown area as well as from the boardwalk vista.

The location offers a number of possibilities for tourists and city residents, says Bill Campbell, acting president of Waterfront Development Corporation Limited—the provincial crown corporation that owns the land and has chosen the Centennial Group to develop the project.

“We’re very excited about it,” says Campbell. “The site will provide rental accommodations. There will be a winter atrium where people can gather inside during times of inclement weather, which we get a lot of around here. The atrium will likely house a variety of commercial retail stores.”

The WDC chose the Centennial Group from a pool of possible developers because “its design was the one that placed the most emphasis on providing public space and public access to the site as well as to the waterfront,” says Campbell.

But HRM senior planner Richard Harvey says one important change has been made to the plan since April of 2004. The observation tower—whose height Harvey estimates at 180 metres—will be going under a separate application process from the rest of the site.

“In 2004, when the press release came out, we received a lot of positive comments about the tower,” says David Nunn, chief returning officer for the Centennial Group. “But we did get some people who were worried this would just be a mini-CN Tower. We realized that the tower might take longer to get approved, and we didn’t want the rest of the project to get held up, so we decided to deal with the tower later. But as soon as the rest of the site gets approved, we’re going to begin the application process for the tower.

“It’s not uncommon on a big project like this to try to subdivide the different components. We’d like the public to view the rest of the site on its own merits.”

All three parties—the WDC, HRM and the Centennial Group—are confident the project will receive the public’s approval. But as they are all careful to point out, this week’s public meeting is only the beginning of a long process whose ultimate aim is to give the Centennial Group permission to build on the land.

“After the public information session, the proposal must be reviewed by the District 12 Planning Advisory Committee,” says Harvey, “as well as the Heritage Advisory Committee. Only then will it go to regional council, which will hold a public hearing in order to gain a further round of input from the community. Regional council will then finally decide whether or not to approve or refuse the development application.”

The public meeting at QEH is meant as a two-way street, says Harvey. “The public gets to actually see and understand the proposal for development of the Halifax waterfront. From a planning department perspective, we’ll be talking about how the Centennial Group’s proposed development fits with HRM’s municipal planning strategy.

“We have a planning policy—which is essentially a giant list of criteria under which we review projects—and then we make a recommendation to the community and to council about how well a project responds to those criteria.”

Nunn is thrilled the Centennial Group will have the opportunity to talk to the public about its plans. “The meeting is a chance for councillors and architects behind the project to explain the development and answer any questions people may have.”

Nunn estimates the project will generate approximately $3 million a year in new municipal and provincial taxes with minimal additional infrastructure or services required.

Public information meeting, 7pm, October 20 at Queen Elizabeth High School, 1929 Robie.

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