Nova Scotia

Bengal Lancers pan proposed Halifax Common master plan

The Halifax Bengal Lancers says the proposed master plan for the Halifax Common is "flawed" and jeopardizes the operation of the non-profit riding school.

Riding school official says changes would impact viability

Horses at the Halifax Bengal Lancers are fed in this photo from July 14, 2019. The riding school criticized a plan for the Halifax Common at a meeting Wednesday. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Halifax's community planning committee has asked for more time to study the latest master plan for the Halifax Common after a representative of the Bengal Lancers told committee members the plan jeopardizes the operation of the non-profit riding school.

Tamzen Black, past president of the Lancers, said the plan is flawed and will limit access to the school, preventing trucks from dropping  off hay or removing manure.  Black also said it will impact their therapeutic riding program.

"The accessibility of the only entrance has been removed, this obviously impacts all of our programming for people with disabilities," Black told the committee. "This may  push us into non-compliance with provincial  accessibility standards."

In a letter posted to the Halifax Lancers' website on Dec. 7, the organization also notes that the design for the master plan will prohibit a planned expansion for the Lancers meant to expand its therapeutic riding programs; and that the outdoor arena does not "lend itself to proper dimensions for equestrian sport."

The Lancers first raised concerns about the master plan when a draft was released in 2019. In a map designed for the plan, the school's parking lot that faces Bell Road has been removed and replaced with green space and its outdoor paddock has been reshaped into an oval with what appears to be a sidewalk around it.

At the time, Lancers barn manager and head coach Angie Holt said she was hopeful that the design would be changed after meeting with municipal officials — but the letter posted to the school's website earlier this week, signed by Holt, indicates that didn't happen.

"We raised these issues in 2019 after the release of the draft plan, yet clearly they have not been addressed," reads the letter. "Furthermore, we were misled by Parks and Recreation staff regarding the nature of the proposed redesign." 

The Lancers have been in Halifax for 85 years.

Master plan not 'written in stone'

The proposed master plan would replace the Halifax Common Plan adopted in 1994 as the "guiding document for open space planning, management, and development within the Halifax Common."

It identifies several "vision goals," including increasing the range of leisure and recreation spaces and activities; improving the mobility network by creating more connections to encourage active transportation; and to protect significant cultural and historic elements of the Common.

Planners told the committee Wednesday that "nothing is written in stone" when it comes to the competing interests for the Wanderers Grounds, and that part of the Common needs its own subplan.

But Coun. Sam Austin said he was not ready to send the 200-page report on to regional council.

Recommendations in the Halifax Common master plan include realigning path and field layouts. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

"I haven't come close to reading this document, I need more time and I think the community and groups need more time," said Austin.

The committee deferred a decision on the master plan to its January meeting.

Planners have been working on a new master plan for the Common since 2017. The last round of public consultation was held in 2019.

Howard Epstein, a member of the Friends of the Halifax Common, also presented at the committee meeting. He said no decision on the master plan should be made before another round of public consultation was held.

"The Common is an important entity in Halifax, it's one of handful of physical defining entities of the original city of Halifax," said Epstein. "You wouldn't go amiss to invite public comments over at least a couple of months."

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