Halifax to consider pitch to reduce construction's negative impact
Plan 'like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted,' says Victor Syperek
While applauding Halifax's long-sought-after building boom, municipal council will consider an attempt to reduce negative impact of construction on businesses and pedestrians.
Halifax staff have proposed a series of bylaw changes, on which council is scheduled to vote Tuesday.
The changes include making a construction impact mitigation plan, alerting neighbours to changes, freeing up or providing wheelchair-accessible alternatives to blocked sidewalks, reducing the number of lost parking spaces, and adding fines to help city staff enforce the new rules.
"This is a huge change in the pedestrian experience and in the businesses' experience — and in the ability of staff to enforce it," Halifax-South Downtown Coun. Waye Mason said.
"Pedestrians are seriously inconvenienced…You have to go around two extra blocks. If you're a business on that street, your customers can't get down that street easily and they start to look somewhere else to shop. That's the kind of thing that's been driving people crazy downtown."
'Too little, too late'
But more needs to be done to satisfy downtown restaurant owner Victor Syperek.
"It's like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. It's too little, too late," Syperek said Sunday. "For future construction, it might make a difference."
Syperek and at least four other area business owners are threatening legal action over ongoing construction they say has negatively impacted their earnings. The municipality instead says the businesses have no legal basis for their claim.
Dust, dirt and filthy water
Syperek says he's seen dust, dirt and filthy water flung on diners on the patio at his Economy Shoe Shop restaurant on Argyle Street across from the under-construction Nova Centre.
Long-blocked off sidewalks and parking spaces have forced some people to avoid downtown all together, he said. That's prompted him to open a new restaurant in Halifax's north-end on Gottingen Street. The Local is now above his other business, the Seahorse Tavern, which for years was downtown.
"It's good for the city that things are happening, revitalizing the downtown core — which should have been done 20 years ago, but just the way it's happening isn't good for business," Syperek said.
This pitch is at least a partial solution to a bigger problem, Mason said. Other issues, such as noise restrictions, parking availability, bylaw officer staffing and financial compensation for businesses, will be looked at in the coming months, he said.
"When we try do all that and a bag of chips at the same time, it means that it takes three or four of five years to get the bylaw done so I'm just happy that we got this part done," Mason said on the phone from Scotland, where he's vacationing.
Under the proposal, developers could be fined for breaking the encroachment bylaw between $100 to $5,000, which Mason said would be easier to do than the drastic step of pulling a permit outright.
"We've had a couple of projects where they're just sitting there for two or three years while the site's being built, so we want to try and see them withdraw from the street as soon as possible," Mason said.
'As fast as possible'
Mason expects the proposal to pass "with flying colours," though he will be away in Edinburgh during Tuesday's meeting.
"It might be a little less convenient for [developers]. It might mean their construction goes slightly longer, but what we really need to see is the parking and pedestrian restored as fast as possible," he said.
"I think this gets us there."