The not-ready Centre Plan strikes back while moving forward

Where we’re at and who’s stuck in the middle.

The not-ready Centre Plan strikes back while moving forward
Aisha Goyette
The Centre Plan should mean that new developments don't require case-by-case bylaw amendments.

HRM's Centre Plan is marginally closer to actually existing. The community design advisory committee reviewed all the land use bylaws included in the Centre Plan on Wednesday, and gets two more meetings to pick it apart, a version of progress that's coming too late for councillor Sam Austin’s constituents, who blame "broken" bylaws for a 16-storey hotel going up on the shore of Lake Banook. 

The land use bylaws are only the first huge-ass chunk of the Centre Plan to move through the advisory committees so far. The caboose of the plan is supposed to focus on residential areas, industrial areas and parks. It hasn’t yet been scheduled for public engagement. 

Going through the land use bylaws is a particularly labourious point in the Centre Plan process, which has already stretched on for six years. In order to make a truly omnipotent plan that simplifies zoning laws for the Halifax-Dartmouth core, committee members are tasked with thinking up every conceivable question the plan will need to answer. That ranges from how tall new buildings can be, to whether public art needs to be regulated.

On the ever-contentious height issue, under the new plan development size will be determined by a formula looking at floor area ratio and height. Loosely, the amount of land the building has to topple over on determines how high it can be. The cap for downtown areas will increase from 20 to 27(ish) storeys. 

If you’ve been sitting on your mountains of cash waiting to develop, you might want to get on it. Anything that isn’t already in motion will be subject to the new plan, while existing development agreements will be grandfathered in to use the pre-Centre Plan rules. Same goes for proposed amendments to existing  agreements.

Which, to councillor Sam Austin’s dismay, means the recently announced lakeside mega-hotel will get to happen, too. Austin and residents have spent years fighting a condo proposed by Monaco Investments Partnership, and they had leverage because residential developments need city approval. By last fall, Monaco's proposed 15-storey condo had been whittled down to eight storeys that the community could live with.

But hiding behind the heated back and forth was the as-of-right opportunity to build a hotel on the land. Monaco decided to exercise that right, scrapping the condo to build a 16-storey hotel at the corner of Prince Albert Road and Glenwood Avenue.

At city council this week, Austin asked for a hail-Mary staff report to see if there is anything that could be done to stop the hotel development. The request is a longshot, but mayor Mike Savage gave the motion his blessing: “If there’s a week for miracles, this is the week for miracles, Easter weekend.”

Pressure to get the Centre Plan finished was “lurking in the background through all this” says Austin. Councillor Matt Whitman says it’s “another case of the not-ready Centre Plan striking back.” 

As for when it will be ready, once the design committee finishes with its amendments to the plan, the hot potato is tossed over to the community planning and economic development standing committee. The plan is also being reviewed by a number of other advisory committees. Then it gets picked over by standing committees that are supposed to send the plan onto the lap of regional council on June 18. 

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