This week Halifax Regional council approved a controversial development in the Halifax South end on Wellington Street. There was concern by some councillors that this approval was flying in the face of advice staff had given, local resident’s objections and sheer intent of current municipal planning policies for that neighbourhood. Councillor Mason (Halifax Downtown-South) wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the Chronicle herald yesterday calling for an urban centre community council. Based on the areas Councillor Mason refers to it would be my interpretation that if such a community council did exist it would include the following districts:
District 5 – Dartmouth Centre
District 6 – Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East (Only a portion of this district would be included as some of Dartmouth North falls into this district)
District 7 – Halifax Peninsula North
District 8 – Halifax South Downtown and
District 9 – Halifax West Armdale
I respect where Councillor Mason is coming from. As the local councillor, I too would find it frustrating when you are bringing forth the voice of your residents in your district, but others choose to vote against them. The sounding lament from some more suburban and/or rural councillors is that we need density in the urban core. And they are right; we do need density in the urban core. However, we do not need to build for the mere sake of building. There are many ways that we can achieve density in our city, and successful examples of low-medium rise density across many cities in other jurisdictions. Regardless, the realities are that it is more sustainable financially and environmentally to build new development in already serviced lots. Millennials are in large numbers opting to remain in urban cores even as they raise families, and in Halifax we need a balanced approach to handle the cultural shift we are witnessing before our very eyes. But development needs to have rules, and follow modern design standards with setbacks, thinking of street level massing and how that impacts the surrounding area and local residents. We have in our city clearer design rules that we have had for much of time that the regional municipality has been in existence. Coupled with the coming finalization of the Centre plan, it will provide clear guidelines to balance between density and comfortable living in our urban core.
The current configuration of the community councils has only been in operation for a little more than two years. There are currently three community councils, and yes they cover large geographical areas, but the reality is that our municipality as a whole covers an immense geographical area. With the vast area that our city does cover comes to beauty in that we have representation on both community councils and regional council from urban, suburban and rural councillors. This balance of councillors from different communities, I believe allows our local governance to be one of debate, consideration and collaboration to decisions that benefit all residents. All residents of Halifax have a stake and interest in what happens in our regional centre, as too do we all have a stake in what happens in communities all across Halifax because we are one unified region.
The value that councillors from across our beautiful city bring to community councils and regional council is a form of diversity. It allows us to consider things in different light that we may have not ever thought about, and there is great value in that. Coupled with the fact that the current configuration of community councils has only existed for two years, I feel that there are still some growing pains in that configuration. I disagree with Councillor Mason that we need an Urban Community Council. If that came to fruition, I feel that would be leaving equally important voices that are outside of the regional core out of those discussions. However, what I do propose is that regional council give the power to community councils to consider all MPS and LUB amendments and to grant approvals (or not) at the community council level. In our current municipal governance network, community councils aside from individual councillors have the most direct link to residents. It would be a better, more inclusive approach to give community councils the authority to approve development applications without the need to go to regional council as well. That I feel is a more inclusive, balanced approach.