Proposed YMCA/CBC development will break HRM By Design height limits | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Proposed YMCA/CBC development will break HRM By Design height limits

Wealthy Martello condo owners will be most affected

The proposed rebuilding of the YMCA and CBC buildings along South Park and Sackville Streets will require Halifax council to amend height limits included in the HRM By Design planning guidelines for downtown. That amendment would be the first break in the planning policies adopted in 2008.

The YMCA and CBC are jointly preparing a development application to rebuild their respective properties---the iconic Art Deco CBC radio building at the corner of Sackville and South Park Streets, and the 60-year-old YMCA building just to the south, facing South Park.

The HRM By Design rules adopted older height limits for properties facing Citadel Hill. In the case of the CBC building, that limit is 23 metres, with no opportunities for the “bonus” heights that can be awarded to other downtown property owners in exchange for the developers including a variety of “public goods,” like additional parking or affordable housing.

The HRM By Design height limits on the YMCA property is 39 metres, with a “bonus” increase to 49 metres possible. In real terms, that’s likely 10 storeys, with an increase to 13 stories.

On Friday, YMCA president Bette Watson-Borg declined to give specifics about the YMCA’s proposal, saying she wanted a complete “unveiling” of the plans to come at a public open house the organization is holding Wednesday and Thursday (7-9pm, both nights). Watson-Borg says the architectural drawings, by Halifax architect Michael Napier, will include several options for the public to consider.

But, speaking with city staff familiar with the YMCA’s general plans, I’ve learned that the Y intends to ask for the full 49 metres allowed for the present YMCA property under the HRM By Design rules, and also to extend that height all the way to Sackville Street, covering what is now the CBC building---that is, to more than double the HRM By Design height limit of 23 metres for that property.

While exact details of the plan are not yet available, I’m told that it will include some sort of nod to the present CBC building’s façade---either to preserve the existing façade, or to build a new façade reminiscent of it. Also, because of shadow concerns with regard to the Public Gardens across the street, the South Park side of the new building will require “ziggurat”-type street frontage---above the street level, each additional .6 metres of height will have to be set back .9 metres. (The Park Lane building along Spring Garden Road has a similar frontage.)

There’s no doubt that a new YMCA is needed. The existing Y is “aging, not green, not accessible and doesn’t meet the programmatic needs our citizens are looking for,” says Watson-Borg.

And the joint development with the CBC is inspired, as it benefits both organizations. Watson-Borg says the YMCA will not be able to raise enough money through fund-raising alone to pay for the size facility it needs. By bringing in the CBC property, and selling the height bonus to a developer, it can raise the difference. The new building would then house the YMCA facilities, street-level retail, office space and residential housing.

The ceeb, for its part, is presently looking to bring together its formerly separate radio and television divisions under one roof. That means closing its Sackville Street radio operations. One possibility is to build an addition to the Bell Road TV building---the sale of the Radio building might raise enough money to pay for the expansion of the Bell Road building into its parking lot, but that's as yet uncertain.

Another possibility is for the ceeb to lease enough office space to bring radio and TV operations together. Andrew Cochran, CBC’s director for the Maritimes, tells me the CBC is committed to maintaining a downtown presence, and that might mean leasing space in the new Y development.

But no firm decisions have been made one way or another, says Cochran.

The YMCA has discussed the Citadel-facing height issues with Heritage Trust, and the Y’s web site maintains that a “computer model shows that we will not have a negative impact on the view from Citadel Hill or surrounding areas.” That’s probably right, because the new building will back upon the existing Martello condo project, which is 11 storeys built atop the eight-storey Park Lane complex---a new 13 story won't impinge any views from Citadel Hill when there's an 19-storey bind it. (Heritage Trust has not returned a phone call for comment.)

But it’s exactly those Martello residents who will likely be most vociferous opponents of the YMCA plans. The Martello is one of Halifax’s most pricey residences and, if the Y proposal moves forward, owners of the west side Martello units will have their views of the Public Gardens obstructed by the new building.

A recently proposed five-storey addition to the City Centre Atlantic building across Dresden Row from the Martello was opposed by residents of the neighbouring Heritage Way condo project, dozens of whom appeared at a council meeting last month to speak against the development. Despite the objections, Halifax council approved the project.

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