About that Public Hearing…

Watching the video of the July 20 Public Hearing on the CBRM’s new Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and Land Use By-law (LUB), I had to seriously interrogate myself as to why I didn’t share many of the concerns expressed by the residents who came to the podium to offer their thoughts on the new documents.

Why am I not afraid that the advent of rooming houses and mobile homes and 6-unit apartment buildings will drive down the value of my property? Why does the prospect of a restaurant or a retail outlet in my predominantly residential neighborhood not give me the shakes? Why am I not afraid of a supportive housing development at the corner of York and Charlotte?

Well, first because my house is not an investment, it’s a home. (And frankly, I am probably the neighbor everybody else thinks is driving their property values down—I really need to mow my lawn.) The notion that your home should be a store of wealth whose resale value you should guard with your life has always struck me as perverse, particularly when it’s being used to prevent other people having homes.

I think District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin hit the nail on the head when she told her colleagues that in the 20 years since she moved into her house on the North Side, she’s seen its value decline not because of rooming houses and mobile homes and 6-unit apartment buildings but because of derelict houses—one that’s been knocked down, two that still stand, broken windows and all. (She still loves her house, by the way, no matter what the assessors have to say about it.)

Moreover, she said, she shares her property with “a very, very large” community housing development:

My kids grew up there. I have no issue with it. It’s probably the lowest rent you’re going to get on the island.

Her kids can’t buy homes in the CBRM, because one person’s high resale value is another’s inability to ever own a home. Said MacMullin:

People need places to live. We need to start building.


Complete community

As for the restaurants and retail spaces (which will be limited to 75 square meters or roughly 800 square feet), having spent almost my entire adult life in cities, I like being able to access pretty much everything I need—from fruit to vegetables to fish to bread to hardware—without leaving my neighborhood and without needing a car. Basically, I appreciate the concept of the “complete community” the planning strategy aims to foster:

…a place for residents to live, work, shop, learn and play without always depending on a private vehicle.

I’ve never really thought of the North End as a neighborhood of predominantly single-family homes and I have my parents to thank for that—they were both North Enders and my sense of the neighborhood’s history owes everything to their stories about it. Read my mother’s piece about “Tin Can Alley,” the name given to a long-gone group of tenement buildings that once stood in the rectangle formed by Ferry Street, Armstrong Court and Intercolonial Street. She begins by writing about the Hoople Block, a tenement on Ferry Street, before continuing:

On Ferry Street, next to the Hoople, from which it was separated, in our day, by large billboards, was the Lavoisier Block (pronounced “LAV-a-sher”) which got its name from a Mrs. Lavoisier, who lived there and ran a small store.

That block provided housing for many families, as did the three on Armstrong Court, one of which — the Burt Block — also took its name from a family who lived there and ran a small store. In fact, small stores were a common feature of the neighborhood — Cameron’s on Havelock Street, Risk’s on the corner of Ferry and Havelock, Mandelbaum’s (later Bonavisky’s) also on Ferry. John Walker’s larger emporium was located on upper Ferry Street, as was Doyle’s Barber Shop.

In other words, apartment blocks and small businesses are as much a part of the North End’s history as are single-family dwellings.

As for the supportive housing units, I believe the “housing first” approach to helping homeless people struggling with addictions and/or mental illness is the best approach we’ve got and I certainly haven’t heard any better alternatives from the opponents to New Dawn’s plan.

So, having aired my personal biases, I will now attempt a dispassionate account of the opinions offered by the “general public” at the July 20 meeting at which people protesting New Dawn’s North End supportive housing project and people from Ankerville Street were oddly over-represented.



The decision to eliminate minimum parking requirements in the municipality was generally hailed as a positive, although Ruus admitted the new approach constituted a “major change,” in that the municipality will allow “the market” to determine how much parking is necessary, while continuing to regulate on-street parking.

Former senior planner Malcolm Gillis (of Ankerville Street), in a written submission critical of some aspects of the new MPS and LUB, called the removal of parking requirements a “refreshing idea.” (Gillis was one of two former CBRM planners, the other being Rick McCready, to provide written submissions to council).

Alyce MacLean, project manager, housing development at New Dawn, submitted a written response but also took the opportunity to offer “all sorts of support” to council for the revised planning strategy and land use by-law which she found to be “quite progressive,” particularly the decision to do away with minimum parking requirements. MacLean said New Dawn has been undertaking an inventory of its properties and the removal of the parking requirement “would enable more non-market units to be built in 11 out of 12 key developable sites.” New Dawn believes it could construct 200 to 250 additional units of housing in the municipality, which she felt would go a long way toward addressing our current crisis.

But Joanna MacIntyre, who has been the public face of the residents’ group opposing New Dawn’s supportive housing project, worried the new regulations meant that people could “park anywhere.”

I am actually sympathetic to MacIntyre’s concerns about parking, which is already at a premium in Sydney’s Downtown and North End and will only get worse with the opening of the Marconi. But I think the answer is better public transit and streets that are friendlier to bikes and pedestrians, both of which are addressed by the MPS in a chapter called “Integrated Mobility.”

I was reading about Copenhagen’s main street, Strøget, which was pedestrianized in 1962 (!) over protests that “No cars means no customers and no customers means no business.” Strøget “proved to be a huge success, with businesses realizing that traffic-free environments provide increased financial revenue”:

The successful pedestrianization of streets in Copenhagen can be attributed, in part, to the incremental nature of change, giving people the time to change their patterns of driving and parking into patterns of cycling and using collective transport to access key destinations in the city—in addition to providing time to develop ways of using this newly available public space.

Before and after pictures of pedestrianized street in Copenhagen. (Source: Global Designing Cities Initiative)

But I digress…


Rural Development

Tracy Standing offered her support for the decision to allow more than one dwelling on a single, unserviced lot without the need for sub-dividing, explaining that her daughter, a nurse, has been trying to find a house for some time now without luck. (Standing said the choices are either a “fixer-upper” or a property with a price tag in excess of $300,000.) The change to the rules will allow her daughter to build on their family lot without the need for sub-dividing. This change was welcomed in a couple of written submissions as well.

But Earl Morgan had some concerns about the rules surrounding private roads to be permitted outside the “Serviced Area Boundary” which “generally encompasses areas within the CBRM with existing municipal water and sanitary and storm sewer infrastructure.”

Morgan’s concern was the 60-foot (or 20-meter) boundary required for such roads. Senior planner Karen Neville explained that the actual “travel way” need only be 6 meters (18 feet) wide and that the larger boundary is meant to allow for future development, but Morgan wasn’t convinced. He said the lot he hoped to develop was a flag lot with 900 square feet of waterfrontage and a 1.3 km road and a 20-meter boundary was “excessive.”

If you are wondering what a “flag lot” is, wonder no more:

Source: CBRM Land Use By-law


Jim MacDonald (of Ankerville Street) wanted to know if the rules that had prevented the development of an RV park in Big Pond in 2019 would still apply. Ruus said that under the new LUB, campgrounds in excess of six sites would be permitted in Rural Areas based on site-plan approval. According to the LUB, that approval will assess the application against “nuisance impacts, access, and on-site amenities and services.” This wasn’t the case for Chris Skidmore, whose plan to develop a 211-site RV Park on Highway 4 in Big Pond required an amendment to the zoning by-law to establish a “site specific” zone accommodating the development. (Council granted it but the UARB ruled that in doing so, it had failed to follow its own rules).

Bobby Dubeau, a “real estate specialist” with By the Bay Properties Ltd, submitted a power-point presentation opposing the municipality’s decision to focus development within the Serviced Area Boundary.

By the Bay Properties was registered in the NS Joint Stocks Registry on 25 February 2022 and lists Mario Vetro, an “investor and financier, specializing in raising growth capital” and Dubeau as its principals. According to their presentation, they bring a “unique perspective” to CBRM’s housing crisis, having witnessed “undesirable areas in Vancouver become some of the best in the city.” (This sounds like gentrification, which has the effect of driving up housing prices, displacing low-income residents and contributing to a housing crisis rather than solving it, but okay, it’s a perspective.)

The company claims to have created housing for 40 people in its first six months of operation in CBRM, apparently by refurbishing “30+” existing housing units, and to have “donated all of our profits back into the community” although By the Bay is not registered as a non-profit.

The company wants to build “affordable housing”—40 one-unit dwellings (Atlantic Mini Homes)—in an existing mobile home park on Bayview Street off the Eskasoni Road. The plan is to add the first homes around the existing homes:


Then, after the initial 40, to add another 40:


Dubeau and Vetro have not had much joy in their selfless attempts to solve our housing crisis:

That last, of course, is the real kicker—as Ruus explained in his written response:

The proposed Municipal Planning Strategy would discourage this level of development outside the Serviced Area Boundary where there is no access to municipal water and sewer. The proposed Municipal Planning Strategy encourages affordable housing be located within the Service Area in proximity of services such as employment areas and transit. It is our understanding this is the approach taken by funding providers when looking at affordable housing projects. If Council wishes entertains this request, further consideration and consultation would be required as it has wider implications.

Dubeau and Vetro want the CBRM to leave the mobile home park zoning unchanged, allowing them to continue with their project because:

Where we come from, you’ve got to give the people what they want. [emphasis theirs]

And what the people want, apparently, is to live cheek by jowl on a strip of land on the Bras d’Or Lakes, without access to municipal sewer, water or public transit. (Nowhere, by the way, do they state how much they plan to invest, what kind of rents they intend to charge or what they consider “affordable.”)


Rooming Houses

Rooming houses, which are to be permitted throughout the CBRM, were a hot topic during the hearing. Les MacLean, a realtor, said that in the course of his work he’s seen examples of dangerously over-crowded and poorly maintained rooming houses. (Unkempt lawns and garbage came up more than once during the hearing.)

A woman standing at a microphone.

Jennifer Kyte-MacDonald

But while he expressed concern for the tenants (mostly international students) living in such conditions, MacLean’s real sympathy was reserved for the “innocent people” in their well-kept neighboring homes whose property values are suffering—and will continue to suffer if such “shared accommodations” are permitted throughout CBRM.

This is a landlord problem: general maintenance, lawn care and garbage pickup (in any residence containing four or more units) is the responsibility of the owner, not the tenant, and it’s landlords who should be held responsible, absentee or not.

Bennett MacIntyre attested to the dismal housing conditions he’s witnessed in the North End and asked that the CBRM promise to enforce its regulations and “guarantee that people will be safe” as it permits additional rooming houses.

Ruus explained that rooming houses will require permits and be subject to an initial inspection to ensure they meet the provincial building code, but suggested that council consider introducing a licensing system that would include fees and annual inspections. District 6 Councilor Glenn Paruch moved that staff come back to council with an issue paper on a licensing by-law and his motion passed.

Jennifer Kyte-MacDonald (another real estate broker) suggested rooming houses should be treated like Airbnbs in residential zones in Halifax, where only owner-occupied rentals are permitted. Her argument—that rooming houses and Airbnbs are basically the same thing—was baffling (rooming houses are homes, not short-term rentals) but the notion of holding owners responsible for the state of their buildings makes sense.

Ruus suggested including Airbnbs in the licensing issue paper and Paruch agreed.

District 12 Councilor Lorne Green said that controlling rooming houses was a “pipe dream” and the only way to control them “is to not allow them.”

But District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger said that “like them or not” rooming houses are there now and if they’re closed down, people will be “on the streets.” He said a licensing regime would give the CBRM “some teeth” to:

…go out in the community and say, “If you’re going to have this many people in your properties, your windows better be egress, you better have this, you better have [that]. These are all the building codes”


Bad situation worse?

Two items raised during the hearing stemmed from bad planning decisions past: namely, development along the Sydney-Glace Bay Highway and development along the Sydney waterfront.

I wrote about the protection of Esplanade view planes last week, but I had to agree with Jim MacDonald when he said he’d be happy to see development on the Charlotte Street side of the Esplanade, but we should never have allowed our view of the harbor to be obscured so completely by the buildings we’ve permitted on the water side.

Slide from Doucet Developments Sydney NS waterfront development plan.

Slide from Doucet Developments Sydney Waterfront Development plan.


Likewise, putting CBU on the highway halfway between Sydney and Glace Bay was a gaff for the ages (one we’re apparently now trying to redress by moving the Marconi to the waterfront where it can contribute to obscuring the view of the harbor.)

Both McCready and Gillis questioned the decision to jettison what Gillis termed the “policy and provisions restricting ribbon development” on the Sydney-Glace Bay Highway:

There is not an urban community ¼ the size of Glace Bay in Nova Scotia not serviced directly by a controlled access highway. The serious accident rates occurring along this corridor because of the high traffic volumes and contradictory interests of commuters versus residents attempting to access their property led to a traffic study jointly commissioned by CBRM and the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation. The study recommended that traffic safety should trump development rights. That will be abandoned with the new MPS.

McCready noted that the study recommended the CBRM incorporate access management policies into its LUB, which the CBRM did. These policies are not included in the new by-law, prompting McCready to remark:

As Grand Lake Road still experiences high levels of traffic, high levels of speeding, and frequent collisions, I do not understand the rationale for removing these provisions.

Kytes Hill lights, installed on Grand Lake Road as a result of traffic study. (Source: Google Maps)

Ruus’ written response states:

The Economic Development Strategy, which was endorsed by Council, identified CBU as an economic driver for the municipality. In turn, the proposed Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-law permits are range [sic] of land uses in proximity to CBU.

Ruus argues that the highway is owned by the province and the province will regulate traffic:

Any lot parcel requesting permission to develop along the Sydney Glace Bay Highway will be required to provide approval from the Department of Public Works with all applications for a Building development Permit. As the Traffic Authority, the Department of Public Works should be responsible for determining the appropriate level of access along the Sydney Glace Bay Highway.


Supportive Housing

Most of the people discussing the New Dawn development at the corner of York and Charlotte Street couched their questions in terms of parking or loss of green space or a lack of proper consultation with the public, although at least one asked flat out about the intended tenants.

Julie Kendall, Elizabeth Fry Society.

Julie Kendall, Elizabeth Fry Society.

I thought Mayor Amanda McDougall-Merrill handled this well, explaining that the MPS and the LUB are concerned with determining the type of building that may be built in any given part of the municipality, not the type of person who can live there.

On a related note, Julie Kendall, associate executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Cape Breton, came to the podium to ask Ruus if, under the new MPS and LUB, accommodations for people transitioning out of the correctional system and back into society would still be classified as “correctional dwellings” (and, as such, banned from downtown Sydney.)

I wrote about this issue back in April 2022, when Kendall came before council as part of a delegation from the Elizabeth Fry Society asking that the CBRM either change the designation of such units to “Community Service Residences” or amend the zoning by-law to allow them to operate in downtown Sydney, as a similar facility for men, Howard House, already does—it was grandfathered in when a previous council banned such facilities from the downtown core.

Ruus, at the time, recommended the Society speak to the Cape Breton Forward team about incorporating the change into the new documents which he said would take less time than changing the designation or amending the by-law.

In response to Kendall’s question during the hearing, Ruus said that, in line with “what the provincial expectations are around supportive housing,” the LUB contains a new “supportive housing” classification and no more “correctional dwelling.”



District 12 Councilor Lorne Green introduced a motion to delay passage of the new MPS and LUB until staff could come back to council with an Issue Paper answering all the questions raised during the public hearing and all those submitted by letter or email.

His reasoning was that he’d heard a question asked that hadn’t been answered and that, for him, was reason enough to delay the process. (Pressed, he said the question was Kyte-MacDonald’s about regulating rooming houses like short-term rentals.)

What particularly puzzled me about this was that there was a memo to council from Ruus and Neville, dated July 17, attached to the meeting agenda which summarizes the written comments received then says:

Staff have prepared further information to these thematic comments for Council’s consideration of the issues…

The memo goes on to address, in some detail, eight points raised in the submissions.

Did Green not read this?

Councilors Green, Paruch, Cyril MacDonald (District 3) and Eldon MacDonald (District 5) supported Green’s motion, but a majority voted against it. District 8 Councilor James Edwards said he’d jotted down four questions during the hearing and three had been answered; Councilor MacMullin said she, personally, hadn’t heard any new concerns raised during the hearing; District 1 Councilor Gordon MacDonald said they’d received copies of the written submissions prior to the meeting and had had ample opportunity to ask questions of Ruus (which he said he’d done); and District 9 Councilor Ken Tracey said they were there to make decisions, some of them tough, and he didn’t want to “see this prolonged any longer.”

In the end, council approved the revised MPS and LUB by a vote of 7 to 4 (Councilors Steve Parson and Darren O’Quinn were absent from the meeting).