Barrington Street developments approved

Halifax Regional Council has voted to approve two large developments on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax on the sites of the Roy Building and the former Discovery Centre.
Frank Medjuck is proposing an office or residential tower on the Discovery Centre site. (1595 Investments Ltd.)

Halifax Regional Council has voted to approve two large developments on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax on the sites of the Roy Building and the former Discovery Centre.

During public hearings on the developments at city hall on Tuesday night, supporters and opponents of the planned mixed-use projects let the council know their concerns about the future of the business district.

Suzanne Saul, the co-owner of Attica Furnishings on Barrington Street, said she believes private developers can revitalize a street that has seen many businesses leave the area.

"I think there's a lot of political will that's caused the downtown to become what it is," she told CBC News after the public hearing.

"A lot of our tax money has gone to areas like Bayers Lake and Dartmouth Crossing."

Louis Reznick and Starfish Properties own the complex of buildings that includes the Roy Building and Frank Medjuck is developing the building that used to house the Discovery Centre.

Both proposals are for two 16-storey office and residential buildings that would also include shops.

The Roy Building proposal calls for the original structure to be demolished and for a new one to be built in a similar style. The development at the former Discovery Centre site would be contained within the existing frame of the building, set back from the street.

Both development applications were made before HRM by Design was approved, so the two projects were grandfathered and allowed to proceed under the city's old planning rules.

That means each building is allowed to be taller than the 21 metres allowed under the new rules for development — something the Downtown Halifax Business Commission opposed at the time.

"We felt it would just be cleaner if HRM by Design was followed so we made that wish known to council, council decided to grandfather them under the old process," said Paul MacKinnon, the executive director of the commission.

"Here we are a couple of years later, dealing with them under a process that really no longer exists."

A mixed-use development has been proposed for the site of the Roy Building. ((Starfish Properties))
Despite their concerns about grandfathering, the board of the Halifax Downtown Business Commission has decided to support both of the Barrington Street projects because it paves the way for more people to live and work downtown.

Beverly Miller, who spoke during the public hearing, said she wants to see the present HRM by Design rules upheld.

"I'm disappointed. I think they're outdated proposals, the kind of proposals that we've considered over and over and over again," she told CBC News.

"Every 18 months we're back here with another developer telling us, 'If you just adopt my proposal, downtown will be revitalized.'"

Halifax Regional Council had received conflicting advice about the projects.

The heritage advisory committee gave its approval for the Discovery Centre plan but didn't think the redevelopment of the Roy Building would fit in with adjacent properties.

However, a staff report on the projects gave its approval for the Roy Building but came out against the plans for the Discovery Centre because of wind and shadow concerns on Barrington Street.

"They've got this very difficult policy to work with, they've also got a couple of advisory committees who are sending very mixed messages on these two particular developments to council," said MacKinnon.

"That's why the decision that council makes will probably be wide open to appeal to the Utility and Review Board, which again was one of the things that we wanted to avoid with HRM by Design. It's cleaned up a lot of that stuff."