Nova Scotia

Steele Auto Group needs 'a lot of pressure' to change demolition plans

Two Halifax councillors say residents emotionally engaged in protecting homes from demolition for commercial redevelopment should be focusing their energy on what's included in the city's future plan to simplify land-use bylaws.

Councillors Waye Mason and Tony Mancini say public input on land-use bylaws needed in Centre Plan

Steele Auto Group has demolition permits for 17 properties surround the Colonial Honda dealership on Robie Street in Halifax. Steele plans to expand the dealership parking and display. (CBC)

Two Halifax councillors say residents emotionally invested in protecting homes from being bulldozed for commercial redevelopment should focus their energy on the city's future plan to simplify land-use bylaws. 

Local residents have been up in arms over Steele Auto Group's plan to expand a Robie Street dealership's display lot by buying up and demolishing some surrounding homes.

Municipal councillors Waye Mason and Tony Mancini said Monday that those who want more control over how demolition and building permits are issued, need to attend consultation meetings for the Centre Plan. 

Rules 'all over the place'

Development rules are currently "all over the place" and have been that way since amalgamation, said Mancini, councillor for Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East.

The Centre Plan is meant to unify and update planning strategies for most of Halifax and Dartmouth. People now have a chance "to simplify it" at upcoming consultations.

"They're going to be brainstorming over what the Centre Plan should include or not include, what's important to them — is that different from their community versus the broader HRM?"

Old bylaws need updating

Building and demolition permits are distributed by building inspectors under the Building Code Act. Council has no control over the approval or removal of permits said Mason, councillor for Halifax South Downtown. 

"The thing is that most of those rules were put in place 30, 40, 50 years ago and people don't even know that," he said.

"People do not know that streets like Macara, and Fern and McCully are all at risk because they're actually zoned commercial C-2."

Waye Mason said the way building and demolition permits are issued hasn't changed for over 30 years. (CBC)

On this issue, the Municipal Planning Strategy sides with residents in the north peninsula area.

"Where redevelopment is proposed for sites with structurally sound housing units, the retention and rehabilitation of such existing units … shall be encouraged," the strategy states. 

But Mason said land-use bylaws are very black and white. 

"Once a demolition permit has been granted, you can't remove that," he said.

It'll take "a lot of pressure" for companies like Steele to reconsider their plans, Mason said, adding the Centre Plan could allow for the review of zoning and how permits are controlled.

"We need to be very careful in the Centre Plan." 

Moving away from Building Code Act

The group Friends of the Halifax Common is calling upon council to make urgent amendments to the Halifax Charter, so council can suspend the issuance of demolition permits until the bylaws can be updated. 

"We're [the city is] trying to densify the peninsula and make it more friendly, but what the city is doing is they're not taking control of either the rate at which that is happening or what the effect of that agenda is on the existing neighbourhoods," spokeswoman Peggy Cameron told CBC News. 

The green parts of this map show the areas that would be affected by the Centre Plan. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Steele's not the first

In the early 1990s, Cameron said the city's north-end was united by being able to stop O'Regan Motors Ltd. from demolishing eight "very solid Victorian row houses" for expansion.

But land-use bylaws haven't changed since the late 1970s, Mason said. 

Ideally, Cameron wants control over permits to move away from the Building Code Act and toward more public consultation and "a whole series of parameters" developed by council. 

Mancini said those ideas are already on the table for the Centre Plan.

"They're already talking about things like having more public engagement when there's anything to do with development. Using more community council, instead of it going to regional council. Policies based on the neighbourhood," he said. 

A draft of the Centre Plan is expected in December.

With files from Pam Berman and Jerry West