A regional councillor thinks city staff is “premature” in dismissing a seniors housing proposal in Ketch Harbour.
At Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting, Kate Greene, program manager for the municipality’s regional plan, presented a report to councillors, looking at the direction of the plan.
District 11 Coun. Patty Cuttell said the review’s blind spot is that it doesn’t recognize aging populations in rural areas.
Cuttell moved to continue consideration of a property reviewed in the report, 1246 Ketch Harbour Rd.
The property owner and KWR Approvals, the project’s developer, propose a seniors housing complex, but regional plan staff recommended against it.
Cuttell asked to hold off on the decision, “until we have the opportunity to look at the report on seniors housing and how that applies to rural areas,” she said.
“I believe that saying this isn’t an acceptable development is premature,” Cuttell said.
The intent of the project is to redevelop a piece of land that is currently half a brownfield site and has an existing building.
“It’s outside of Ketch Harbour at the top of the hill,” she says. “It will be small, accessible, smaller unit housing in a communal setting.”
Cuttell says the community wants this project, as it will “help enable people to stay in the community that they have grown up and lived in all their lives, in many cases around their family and relatives.”
In talking to residents around the Sambro Loop, Cuttell says she realized that “seniors housing options to downsize are very limited out there.”
The report says HRM’s population has grown more than two per cent in the last three years.
Greene says her team has created a population growth projection that shows by 2050, HRM’s population would likely be more than one million. Currently, though, the housing supply shortage is about 12,000 units.
The proposal for 1246 Ketch Harbour Rd. could help mitigate this. The proposal suggests densifying the site with 2.6 units per acre and reuse the former 9,000 sq. ft. telecommunications building for four residential units.
It also proposes 1,200-1,500 square feet be used for common amenity space and 1,500 square feet for office or retail commercial space
The development will have a mixture of duplexes, condominiums, bungalows, and townhouses.
Current zoning policies are halting the development, but no longer reflect the community and are no longer appropriate for the site, according to the report. The policies were put in place at a time when they made sense, but the Ketch Harbour area is changing, and according to the report, the housing demands are growing.
Staff recommended that council refuse the proposal because it contradicts the regional plan’s direction for rural areas. The property is located outside a rural growth centre, where higher density is not encouraged.
Greene says there might be space for enabling policies around adaptive reuse or changes to conservation design. She says there has been an ongoing conversation “with the developer and the consultant for the developer as to what’s the best route here, how to address this.”
During the meeting, District 9 Coun. Shawn Cleary said the development is encouraging age discrimination because of its focus on senior residents.
“Are we expecting the province to give us the power to include age discrimination in our land-use bylaws?” Cleary said.
Cleary said regional council does not have the authority to say, “that’s a great idea, you can only have elderly people live there,” to new developments.
But District 1 Coun. Cathy Deagle Gammon said, “We have an application right now under repeal in Fall River … they went to the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Act states that there can be exceptions to the age discrimination for a planning agreement,” she said, “They’ve said that they can have a development that is for 55-plus.”
“If somebody really wanted to move in there and they were 28, they could,” Cuttell said, “It’s about the marketing and the design and the intent of the community.”
Cuttell said the idea behind the development is to provide an alternative for elderly and senior people looking to downsize but wanting to stay in their community.
“I don’t think that there’s any discriminatory process here except that we’re creating a different type of housing option in an area where housing options are limited,” she says.
The motion was made by Cuttell and was passed 10-6 with councillors Austin, Mancini, Mason, Smith, Cleary, and Blackburn voting no.
The regional plan discussed by councillors determines HRM’s planning policies, future growth, and development between now and 2031.
In 2020, council initiated a new review of the plan. The 1,200-page report outlines a summary of public engagement, revisions to the plan, and proposed next steps.