Halifax regional council made an unprecedented exemption on Tuesday afternoon to allow a developer to start building without a permit by giving Argyle Developments Inc. the green light to start construction on the convention centre plaza.

The firm, a local subsidiary of Joe Ramia's company Rank Inc., asked permission from the province to construct the parking garage and foundation of the Nova Centre without an approval by planning staff and politicians on an updated design.

The design changed after a round of public consultations. With a new design in hand, Ramia needed a new permit — a process that would have taken eight months.


Nova Scotia and the Halifax Regional Municipality have committed $56 million each towards the project. ((Rank Incorporated))

On Tuesday, Halifax regional council voted almost unanimously — Coun. Jennifer Watts was the lone opponent — to turn to the provincial cabinet to approve the accelerated timeline.

Richard Butts, the CAO of the Halifax Regional Municipality, said it's an unprecedented exception to the city's procedures.

"But I would tell you the precedent we'd like to set — and we think we have set — is by meeting unique demands in an aggressive, open and co-operative way with a specific developer," Butts said Tuesday.

"We think we do that more often than we get credit for but this is an example where we've done it in a very aggressive fashion in order to meet some very aggressive timelines and satisfy public demands for great development."

If the city doesn't approve the plans in eight months, Ramia said he's willing to shoulder the costs of tearing out the foundation and starting again.

"We're going through this because we've listened to the public and what they've told us to do," he said.

"If we would've went ahead with our original project, we wouldn't need anything. We would be pouring concrete and moving forward because our original project was approved under HRM By Design."

The new Nova Centre is supposed to be finished by 2016.

The province of Nova Scotia and the Halifax Regional Municipality have committed $56 million each towards the project, while the federal government is putting in another $51 million.