Nova Scotia

Province opens bids for housing development in downtown Dartmouth

The Nova Scotia government has picked a piece of prime real estate in downtown Dartmouth as a possible site for a mixed-use development that would have to include affordable housing.

Land would be sold or leased at a discount in exchange for guarantee of affordability

The parcel of land owned by Crown corporation Develop Nova Scotia in Dartmouth, N.S. in highlighted in pink. It is bordered by King and Prince streets, and Alderney Drive. (Develop Nova Scotia)

The Nova Scotia government has picked a piece of prime real estate in downtown Dartmouth as a possible site for a mixed-use development that would have to include affordable housing. 

The parcel is currently a parking lot, bordered by King and Prince streets, and Alderney Drive. It's about half a hectare in size and municipal zoning would allow for a building up to 90 metres tall, or, depending on the design, 20 to 30 storeys. 

On Tuesday, Crown corporation Develop Nova Scotia, which owns the land, opened a call for proposals for a development that is to be "primarily residential, with community, cultural, commercial or small-scale production space."

This is the second piece of land chosen as part of a housing program the Progressive Conservative government started when it came into power last year. The Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing has been assessing all provincially controlled land in a hunt for sites that could be used to build desperately needed housing developments.

The Dartmouth project could include one, or multiple buildings. Initial bids can be submitted until March 28. After that, a short list of bidders will be invited to move on to a second stage when detailed plans will be filed.

Value of the land

The Crown corporation will either sell or lease the land to the winning developer, or it could consider a land swap agreement that would preserve existing affordable housing in Halifax. 

The call assures bidders they'll get a good deal on the agreement, on some conditions.

"We recognize the market value of the subject property, and anticipate discounting the cost of land — through a sale or long-term lease or other form of agreement — in exchange for tangible benefit in the form of affordable housing," the call for proposals reads.

The land is currently being leased by the adjacent office building and is therefore assessed for tax purposes as part of that property. Prior to that, in 2019, the tax assessment for the property valued it at about $3 million. Tax assessments, however, don't always reflect market value.

A spokesperson for Develop Nova Scotia told CBC News the property was last appraised in 2016 for upward of $5.4 million.

"Since that time, there have been changes in the market. Also generous as-of-right development permissions have been granted through HRM's Centre Plan, so we believe the value has increased substantially," Kelly Rose said in an email. 

Rose added, however, that Develop Nova Scotia isn't necessarily focused on the dollar value, but rather on leveraging the property "for a plan that is financially viable and sustainable and makes a lasting contributing to housing affordability in HRM."

The outlined property is about half a hectare in size and currently occupied by a parking lot. (Develop Nova Scotia)

Project requirements

Develop Nova Scotia's call said proposals should include details about affordability, accessibility and energy efficiency, among other criteria, but doesn't lay out exactly what it's looking for in those areas.

"Develop Nova Scotia is purposely avoiding prescriptive program targets for the site, instead relying on the expertise of the non-market housing and private development sectors and housing service providers," the call said.

However, the call describes the need to create "affordable, moderate-income housing for people ineligible for social housing yet are increasingly priced out of the market."

The Crown corporation said it's open to different definitions of affordability, but it includes the common definition of "moderate income housing," which is housing that costs no more than 30 per cent of the gross income for households earning between 60 and 100 per cent of the area's median income.

As of 2016, according to the call for proposals, the median household income for Halifax Regional Municipality was $69,452.

By those standards, the cost of moderate-income housing for the Halifax area would range between $1,042 and $1,736 monthly. 

Partnerships encouraged

Bidders on the land could be private companies, housing co-ops, non-profit organizations and charities, community housing organizations and Indigenous governments and organizations. Develop Nova Scotia said it encourages partnerships between private and non-profit groups.

"Responses that include community non-profit and/or non-market housing sector partners will be prioritized."

A short list of bidders is expected to be made by April.

Housing Minister John Lohr told CBC in a recent interview that more than 30 provincial controlled sites had been selected to be tendered out for development.

The first was an empty lot on Circassion Drive in Cole Harbour. Bids opened for that site last November and close at the end of this month.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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