Residents of Elm Street say they weren’t properly consulted about a development Halifax regional council approved Tuesday night.
The six-storey, 57-unit building will go on a vacant lot on the corner of Chebucto Road and Elm. It used to be an Ultramar gas station but has been vacant for several years.
Community members told regional council the building doesn’t fit the neighbourhood and will increase traffic, making the area dangerous to their children. Most importantly, they don’t feel the municipality is listening to their concerns.
A dozen community members showed up for the public hearing.
“We have no say,” said Juri Worms in an interview. He was one of the three Elm Street residents who spoke at the meeting. “It’s really feeling like this decision was done before we came into the room.”
Tracy Boyer, another Elm Street resident, agreed.
“If you analyze the conversation that happened in that room, it was councillors and staff and developers,” said Boyer. “The city has no capacity to do really good engagement.”
Coun. Bill Karsten said council frequently hears that they don’t do enough community engagement.
At the beginning of the meeting, Coun. Shawn Cleary, who represents the area, presented a petition signed by residents asking the council not to approve the development. But, he voted in favour of the building.
Cleary said he heard the community’s concerns and the developer addressed them. He said issues brought forth Tuesday weren’t ignored at council but “it was the same information that they provided a year ago, and a year and a half ago and two years ago.”
He said he would have voted against the project if someone had demonstrated that the height of the building posed an issue, such as blocking someone’s solar panels.
“Citizens absolutely have to be proactive,” said Cleary after the meeting. “We’ve got to stop spoon feeding people. Because we’re not actively engaging our citizens if we just provide them everything.”
Cleary said there is “ample opportunity” to get involved. The municipality mails out notices, posts information online, holds community meetings, encourages people to write in, sends proposals to a public advisory committee, has developments reviewed by municipal planners and, finally, holds a public hearing.
However, Boyer asked if the municipality is only consulting “the people who have affluence, who can show up at these meetings.”
Karsten asked the municipal planner present, Jesse Morton, whether public information notices were mailed out to make sure residents knew about the proposed changes and public information sessions. Morton said they expanded the required mailing zone and mailed more notices than required.
“Forget their fucking notice,” said Boyer. “People have kids at home; send them a survey or go to their doors and ask them what they think.”
Boyer said other factors also prevented people from engaging in a meaningful way.
“Think about the level of literacy you need to have to even relate,” said Boyer. “Think of all the terminology they’re using.”
In response to community feedback, the representative for the developer said they decreased the “street wall height,” made the building “human scale” and increased “fenestration.”
Another complaint was the building was too tall to fit into the area. Morton said the building is designed to blend with the community, even though it’s taller than nearby houses.
The motion approved by council allows a mixed-use residential and commercial building to be built on the site. The change was required because one corner of the site was zoned as residential.