CBRM Council: Parking, Road Closures, Affordable Housing

Yesterday’s CBRM council meeting was a relatively short (just under an hour) and swiftly moving affair.

The agenda contained just six items, the first three of which were approval of minutes, approval of agenda and proclamations (CBRM will mark White Cane Week from February 7 to 13).

So I will focus on the final three items:

 

Sacred Heart

Council returned to Kevin Colford’s request to amend the parking requirements in the North End of Sydney to accommodate his plans to turn the former Sacred Heart Church on George Street into a “business hall.” That’s the term used by planner Kristen Knudskov, although it seems a little dry for what Colford has planned — he intends to turn the space into a venue for “weddings, conferences, dinner theatre, concerts and other similar events.”

Sacred Heart has municipal, but not provincial heritage status. Provincial heritage status, which Colford has applied for, would exempt it from municipal parking, lot development and site plan approval requirements. But the process can take up to two years, and so Colford has asked council to amend the planning strategy to exempt municipal heritage buildings from parking requirements. As Knudskov pointed out, though, that would mean lifting the parking requirements on most of the properties in the North End:

Map of Sydney, NS North End

 

Instead, Knudskov recommended that council remove the parking requirements (and lot development and site plan approval requirements) for “former community and educational service buildings which are registered heritage properties.”

Council agreed to this option and directed staff to advertise a public hearing to consider it.

 

Old alignments

The next item on the agenda was supposed to have been presented by regional solicitor Demetri Kachafanas — his name is on the Issue Paper — but was instead presented by CBRM property manager Sheila Kolanko,

It was a follow-up to a decision made during a general committee meeting on 7 January 2020. At that time, council declared several waterfront properties surplus and agreed to sell them to the Province of Nova Scotia as part of the NSCC Waterfront project.

The agreement included “portions of the old alignments of both Kings Road and the Esplanade,” the exact area to be determined at a later date. That date has come and yesterday, council agreed to “initiate formal street closure…for portions of the old alignments of Kings Road and Esplanade.”

The properties in question are identified on this, basically illegible, map:

Sydney MAP

Esplanade Map

District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger asked for confirmation that this “street closure” would not actually have any effect on pedestrian or vehicle traffic, was assured it would not, and so council passed the motion.

But I am going to use this opportunity to ask why so much of the material attached to the council agenda looks like these maps. My theory was the documents were soaked in puddles prior to scanning, but then I remembered Glen Murrant, who ran unsuccessfully for council in October, also had a beef about this. I asked him why these documents were so poorly reproduced and he explained:

All the council docs start out as a digital file (most likely MS Word docx). The correct way to disseminate these documents would be to simply convert them to (i.e. “save as”) PDF. This would retain all the text data for better/faster searches, improve legibility, and reduce storage space and bandwidth. BUT … CBRM doesn’t seem to have a handle on the “save as” feature. Instead they print hard copies, scan them, and then save PDF copies — which, in the process, strips them of all searchable data. For legibility reasons, at the very least, these scans should be done at 200dpi, but I’ve come across countless at 72dpi, which renders fine print almost completely unreadable. Even worse, they often use a scan of scan of scan — which can make even larger text unreadable.

What he said.

 

Listen up, Chuck

The final item on yesterday’s agenda was an “update from Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities,” from Mayor Amanda McDougall, who currently serves as VP of that organization, which represents 49 NS municipalities.

Amanda McDougall

Amanda McDougall

McDougall, as she’s done during several recent council meeting, left the chair (asking Deputy Mayor Earlene MacMullin to take over) to participate in debate on this matter. This is, to my mind, a great improvement on the previous mayor’s habit of both chairing and debating.

McDougall explained that the NSFM had requested it be allowed a representative — its CEO, Juanita Spencer — on the newly formed Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission, but that request was rejected by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter on the grounds that 1) the commission is “not political in nature,” 2) Spencer has no housing expertise, 3) many other stakeholders had asked for a seat on the commission and the government cannot accommodate everyone.

(A thought occurs: if you allow a representative from an organization representing all the province’s municipalities, aren’t you kind of accommodating everyone?)

McDougall said Porter offered the NSFM a seat on a sub-committee of a working group of the commission but the organization respectfully declined. She said they felt the province was “checking a box” by including them, rather than actually consulting them.

In the course of explaining the situation, McDougall noted that she had tried unsuccessfully to reach Minister Porter who ignored her phone messages and emails until she sent a “strongly worded” email to the premier, all three candidates for the Liberal leadership, Tory leader Tim Houston and NDP leader Gary Burrill asking how she was expected to communicate with Municipal Affairs given “reaching out directly to the minister is clearly not working.” (Porter sent her a response the next day saying the NSFM was not getting a seat on the affordable housing commission but ignoring her question re: communication.)

This did not sit well with Deputy Mayor MacMullin who, once she’d ceded the chair back to the mayor, said that while denying municipalities — who are on the “ground level” when it comes to housing issues — was an issue, they might have “an even larger issue if the mayor of the second-largest municipality in the Province of Nova Scotia cannot get an audience with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.”

District 5 Councilor Eldon MacDonald, regional caucus representative with the FNSM, also spoke to the issue, saying that discontent with Porter is not limited to the CBRM — he said “the minister has been completely absent in this conversation,” which has been held mostly with the deputy minister.

We just recently last week had a meeting with mayors and wardens and they, too, are concerned that the minister seems to be completely absent from all these conversations.

He then suggested the arrival of a new premier might lead to “changes” in cabinet — perhaps including a new face at Municipal Affairs.

MacMullin eventually moved that they write a letter to Minister Porter and copy the premier to express their concern at the lack of communication between the minister and the municipality.

Chuck Porter

Chuck Porter

In the discussion that followed, Councilor Bruckschwaiger, while supporting the motion, warned against getting into a standoff with the government like the one between former Mayor John Morgan and the province over equalization.

Councilor Eldon MacDonald asked that the document address their concerns, but also say the municipality was “looking forward” to developing a renewed partnership with the new government.

District 1 Councilor Gordon MacDonald, on the other hand, said he personally had no problem with a strongly worded letter to the premier, suggesting the minister had “slighted” the CBRM as “many, many times we’ve been slighted by governments in Halifax.”

The Mayor promised to circulate the letter before sending it.

I also want to note that McDougall made the argument that Nova Scotia municipalities need more decision-making power. She said it was very frustrating for municipalities to do the work on an issue like Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Printed Paper, present a proposal to government (which the Nova Scotia solid waste-resource management regional chairs committee did in June 2019) and then wait in vain for a response.

This is a really interesting issue, one that municipalities across this country have been grappling with basically since Confederation. There are many aspects to it, but one that comes to mind in any discussion of affordable housing is that Public Housing is a provincial responsibility in NS but municipalities must help fund it through mandatory annual payments. Which means they must fund it from their property taxes but they have no say in decisions about Public Housing. There’s lots more to this issue and I’m glad the mayor is going there, I’ll try to write about it in greater detail in future issues.

For now, I will leave you with the list of people Chuck Porter did allow on his Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission. You’ll note that CBRM CAO Marie Walsh is one of them, as is Fred Deveaux, whose bio is missing for some reason, but who is executive director of the Cape Breton Community Housing Association.

The commission is expected to bring forward its recommendations in May.

Catherine Berliner (co-chair)

Catherine was appointed Deputy Minister of the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing in July 2020. She worked for the Government of Canada for 15 years before joining the Government of Nova Scotia in 2003. She has a Master of Business Administration.

Dr. Ren Thomas (co-chair)

Dr. Thomas is a researcher, writer, and instructor who is passionate about planning, with a focus on housing, transportation, growth management policies, and governance. She has worked on a number of nationally funded research projects and is a Founding Fellow of the MacEachen Institute of Public Policy and Governance at Dalhousie University. As an Assistant Professor at the School of Planning, she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in planning and supervises Masters and Bachelors theses/projects. She has worked in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, including the Ontario Growth Secretariat, University of Oregon, University of Amsterdam, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the BC Non-Profit Housing Association. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. from the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP), and she’s a Registered Professional Planner (RPP) and Member of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Karen Brodeur

Karen is the Regional Manager, Atlantic for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. She has spent the last 25 years working from coast to coast in the co-operative housing sector. In 2013, she graduated with a Masters of Management Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary’s University, completing her thesis on scale and housing co-operatives. After graduating, Karen spent three years on the board of directors of the Co-operative Management Education Co-operative, working to support the advancement of co-operative management education in partnership with Saint Mary’s University. Karen is passionate about the sustainability and expansion of mixed income, inclusive co-operative communities.

Chris Collett

Chris has worked in the public service for over 30 years in mental health and Justice sectors and is currently responsible for Nova Scotia’s Correctional Services Division. Working with communities to create new and innovative solutions to address the social determinants of crime are a key focus in Nova Scotia. Creating supportive housing options to reduce institutionalization and providing opportunities for vulnerable citizens to succeed through educational and vocational attainment are key focusses in Nova Scotia. “I am honoured to have been asked to work as a member of the Housing Commission which will allow me to continue this important work on behalf of Nova Scotians.”

Kelly Denty

Kelly Denty is Executive Director of Planning and Development with the Halifax Regional Municipality. As department head, she leads a team of professionals who ensure HRM’s planning programs, policies and services create complete and sustainable communities. With over 32 years of experience in the administration of municipal planning and land development programs, Kelly is accomplished in all aspects of planning and land use regulation and is recognized as a subject matter expert in this area.

Fred Deveaux

Coming soon

Marie Walsh

Marie is a Certified Public Accountant and began her career in Municipal Government in 2007 as Director of Finance before she moved into the position of CAO. Prior to this Marie worked in Public Housing with Cape Breton Island Housing for 19 years. During this time she was selected for a 3 month secondment for a Strategic Planning committee for Provincial Housing Authorities. She has been a member of many boards throughout her career including CPA, AMA, PVSC, Destination Cape Breton, Home Care etc along with many Provincial committees.

Frazer Egerton

Frazer works as a Special Advisor at the Department of Health and Wellness. His recent positions have been at the Executive Council Office and Community Services. He has a PhD from the University of Wales and is delighted to have called Nova Scotia home for the past 10 years.

Wadih Fares

Wadih Fares, President and CEO of WM Fares Group, leads a team of professional engineers, architects, planners, and project managers. He has completed major multi-unit residential, commercial and hospitality projects throughout the Maritime Provinces, Ontario, and Alberta. Fares, also known as the Honorary Consul of Lebanon for the Maritime Provinces for the past 25 years, has shown exceptional dedication to community service and has been recognized by various sectors of society, receiving numerous prestigious awards and honours. In 2008 Fares was Inducted into the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame and in 2012, Wadih was invested into The Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honours.

Jim Graham

Jim has over 45 years’ experience in the social housing field shared among the Province of Nova Scotia, the South Africa Department of Housing and various local non-profit organizations. He has served as a trustee on the Cooperative Housing Stabilization Fund and been recognized nationally by both CMHC and the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada. Since 2012 as Executive Director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia he has led AHANS in its role as the Community Entity responsible for delivering Employment and Social Development Canada’s homelessness investment programs in Halifax and rural Nova Scotia.

Alex Halef

Alex Halef, an Industrial Engineer (graduate of Daltech, Dalhousie formerly TUNS) is President and CEO of BANC Group. Alex and his teams’ primary business is the acquisition, design, construction and management of purpose built mixed use high-rise concrete multi-family apartment and commercial developments. Predominantly an urban developer, but with land interests in the suburbs, Alex and the BANC team are constantly focused on striving to maintain the precedent of producing buildings of the highest standard possible but as cost effective as possible to achieve a livable project for the broadest demographic. Alex has also sat on the board of various community organizations, such as the St. Antonios Parish Council and he and his wife are active members of the community, along with their four lovely young children.

Jeremy Jackson

Jeremy Jackson joined Killam Properties in November 2005 as Vice President, Marketing. Jeremy has over 30 years of sales and market management experience. Prior to joining Killam, Jeremy had spent 10 years with Aliant Telecom in various managerial positions. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from St. Francis Xavier University and an MBA from St. Mary’s University. Jeremy is the current President of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS), sits on the board of directors for Shelter Nova Scotia, as well as various regional and national homelessness and affordable housing committees. Jeremy is also the Past President of Basketball Nova Scotia, Past Club President and a current coach for the West End Steelers Youth Basketball Club in Halifax.

Joy Knight

Coming soon

Gordon Laing

Gordon Laing is President & CEO of Southwest Properties Limited, a leading family-owned and operated developer of residential and commercial property in Atlantic Canada. Southwest owns and operates 1,783 quality apartments and condominiums in metro Halifax and is a majority shareholder of Premiere Suites, the leading Canadian provider of extended stay accommodations. Southwest is active in several hotel properties in Atlantic Canada and commercial properties in Newfoundland.

Michelle MacFarlane

Michelle MacFarlane is the Executive Director of Business and Consumer Services (BCS) within Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services. BCS, through regulatory practices and other programs, strives to balance economic growth with the protection of public interest. Michelle is an advocate of human-centred approaches for improved government programs and policies and uses her senior level knowledge in strategic planning and leading transformational change to modernize programs and services.

Veronica Marsman

Coming soon.

Chief Sid Peters

Chief Sidney Peters is a Mi’kmaq from the Glooscap First Nation, NS. He is the son of former Chief Joseph Peters and was elected to the position in 2012. In his previous work life he has worked with the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq (CMM) as the Manager of their Lands, Environment, and Natural Resources Department (LENR). He was responsible for the operation of the LENR department, which included: lands, and research on any land issues relating to First Nation communities. Prior to his work with CMM Sidney has 23 years of work experience with not-for profit groups, band councils, tribal councils, and municipalities, and federal and provincial governments.

Featured image: Suitably empty CBRM council chambers — this week’s meeting was held via Zoom. Photo by WayeMason CC BY-SA 4.0  via Wikimedia Commons.