Nova Scotia

Affordable housing, heritage preservation emerge as election issues in downtown Halifax

Demonstrators held a rally on Queen Street on Thursday to highlight concerns about commercial properties being torn down to make way for redevelopment.

Rally draws attention to several commercial properties in the area

Demonstrators held a rally on Queen Street in Halifax on Thursday. Affordable housing and heritage preservation have emerged as municipal election issues in the area. (Pam Berman/CBC)

Affordable housing and heritage preservation have emerged as municipal election issues in Halifax's District 7.

Demonstrators held a rally on Queen Street off Spring Garden Road on Thursday.

They're worried about the prospect of some commercial properties being demolished. Last year, Halifax Regional Council voted against naming several of the buildings as heritage properties. At the time, multiple owners of the buildings raised concerns the designation would reduce their value and restrict what they could do with the properties.   

"That means they can be destroyed," said Judy Haiven, part of Development Options Halifax, the rally organizer. "As we know, if they come off a heritage conservation list, they will be destroyed."

A parcel of land between Queen Street and Birmingham Street is currently on the market as an opportunity for mixed-use development. The parcel includes several of the colourful two-story commercial buildings on Queen Street. 

Cody Beaton attended the rally and was gathering names for a petition about the situation. He worries that the streetscape will be lost without providing people with options for affordable housing.

"Condos for rich people are not affordable, and that's what they want to do," said Beaton. "I bet you anything."

Sue Uteck, the executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association, watched the rally from across the street.

Uteck hopes those who buy the properties can incorporate the facades into new developments so the character of the area can be maintained.

The former councillor said the situation has been poorly handled by the current council. She said the downtown plan was supposed to be reviewed after five years, but 11 years have passed without a review.

"We knew mistakes were going to be made, so it's time for that review," Uteck said.

However the incumbent councillor for the area, Waye Mason, says the downtown plan has a commitment to be reviewed every ten years, not five, and says that review is underway. 

Residents in the area say they are worried about the future of several commercial properties. (Pam Berman/CBC)

Developer Danny Chedrawe, on hand to watch the rally, said the scale of the current Queen Street properties appeals to the public. Chedrawe also blamed the situation on existing planning rules.

"If we really want to make a difference it has to happen in the council chamber, not on the streets and sidewalks," said Chedrawe. "The status quo is not going to help us with affordable housing. It's not going to help us with heritage preservation."

Chedrawe said he is trying to incorporate affordable housing units in one of his latest development projects, but "it isn't easy, we're trying, but it's a struggle."

Four candidates in district

He said the municipality should be challenged to create 500 affordable housing units over the next five years.

Four candidates are running in District 7. One of them, Jen Powley, took part in the rally.

On her website Powley said affordable housing must be prioritized in future projects such as the redevelopment of the Cogswell Interchange.

The incumbent in District 7 is Waye Mason. He has produced a report card that states two of three goals on affordable housing have been completed.

Craig Roy is also a candidate. His website talks about more streamlined development processes to increase housing options. The fourth candidate, Richard Arundel-Evans, does not have a website or publicly available contact information. 

Peggy Cameron, who helped organize the Queen Street rally, said development issues need to be front and centre in this October's election.

"Encourage everyone you know to get out and vote," said Cameron, "It's not a polarized discussion about for or against development, it's about what kind of city we want to be living in."