City

Old South Suburb could become heritage conservation district

Initiative would preserve historic properties, set development restrictions

The Government House of Nova Scotia (1800) is one of many historic properties in the district.
The Government House of Nova Scotia (1800) is one of many historic properties in the district.   Madi Haslam

The Halifax Heritage Advisory Committee hopes to preserve historic landmarks in Halifax’s oldest neighbourhood by establishing a heritage conservation district in the south end.

The proposed plan would restore the area known as the Old South Suburb, which extends from the Old Burying Ground to Cornwallis Park, by repairing heritage buildings and creating bylaws to restrict new development projects.

“Many of the historic buildings that were along Barrington have been demolished,” said HRM heritage planner Seamus McGreal at a community meeting Wednesday night. “We need to protect the remaining ones.”

There are 44 registered heritage buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries in the Old South Suburb. Another 30 buildings in the area are historically significant, but not registered as such.

The Benjamin Wier House (1863)
The Benjamin Wier House (1863)   Madi Haslam

The committee is also concerned with the size of modern building projects in the area. The plan would regulate the height of new developments in relation to the historic properties surrounding each lot.

Most structures would be limited to a few metres taller than the historic skyline, but developers who bury wires underground or include public parking in their plans would be permitted to build slightly higher.

“We’ve heard from businesses that underground parking is desirable in the area, so we would allow for bonuses if they provide it,” said McGreal at the meeting. “We do understand that blasting could affect the foundation of some heritage buildings, so we need to explore it further.”

Janet Morris, a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee and vice president of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, is still worried about the proposed regulations.

“I’m quite concerned about the part of the plan that compromises with developers on the height of buildings,” she said in an interview. 

“The whole point of the conservation district is to bring the neighbourhood’s heritage into the prominence it deserves. When you put a new building in that’s taller than the heritage ones around it, it takes away from the whole experience.”

Morris said you can see another downtown example of this on Sackville Street, where the Halifax Convention Centre takes over the view of the old Halifax County Academy school building.

“I’d prefer (that) new developments not exceed the height of heritage buildings,” she says.

The committee hopes to provide residents and businesses housed in heritage buildings with funds to maintain the structures. Since 2005, the municipality has invested $112,000 in its Heritage Property Program.

Until it develops an original financial initiative for the Old South Suburb, the Heritage Advisory Committee is proposing adding $50,000 annually to the fund for properties in the neighbourhood.

“That way historic property owners can apply for a grant for $10,000 a year and we can be assured at least five properties will get repairs,” said McGreal.

Eventually, the committee would like to offer heritage property owners financial incentives, like tax rebates.

View the slideshow below to see some of the properties the plan would protect: