Halifax Council

Halifax regional council defers decision on Willow Tree site development proposal

Residents continue to push back against the proposed 25-storey Halifax development


29-storey rendering of the proposed Willow Tree development presented by APL.   WM Fares Group

After a public hearing Tuesday night and deliberating Wednesday morning, Halifax regional council decided to defer a decision on the Willow Tree development proposal.

Wednesday’s debate ended in the afternoon with a 16-1 vote for staff to prepare a report. The report will not only look at the proposed 25 storeys, but include requirements such as affordable housing, wider sidewalks and other public recommendations. It’s scheduled to be completed by March 20.

The debate centres on whether the development should be 25 storeys or 20.

On Tuesday, the public hearing into the development at the corner of Robie Street and Quinpool Road, known as the Willow Tree intersection, lasted four hours. The public hearing room at City Hall was nearly filled, with only eight open seats. More than 40 people signed up to speak.

During the hearing, the developer’s proposal was not well received, as a number of the speakers were not in favour of the building. A primary concern was that the building would cast shadows on the neighbourhood. It was also stated a decision shouldn’t be made until Centre Plan is implemented.   

Armco Capital, the site’s developer, has been going back and forth with council for over three years. APL is the property division of Armco Capital and their director of development and sales, Adam MacLean, represented the company at the meeting.

Although the hearing was to discuss the 20 storey proposal, MacLean proposed 25 storeys to council. Lightheartedly, he joked about his allotted 10 minute presentation time.

“I should be allowed 10 minutes for every year this has been going on,” he said.

MacLean said APL believes what they are putting forward is the best option and the initial 20 storeys offered by the council was “a lost opportunity for that corner.”

Before adjourning the public consultation, MacLean asked the council to schedule another public hearing for 25 storeys. The decision was made to consider the 25 storeys after council reviews the March report.

‘Deep concern’

Many people in attendance questioned the need for a taller building.

“If we must build, then build sanely not extravagantly,” said Larry Haiven, Saint Mary’s University professor emeritus and a Halifax West-Armdale resident.

A January 2017 council report proposed a 20-storey amendment to the land use bylaw for the Halifax Peninsula.

Kathleen Flanagan, who walks across the Halifax Common every day, said the proposed development is “of deep concern to myself, my neighbours and my community.”

Mary Jo MacKay, who lives near the Willow Tree site, urged council to not make exceptions for this development proposal.

“Don’t jeopardize the potential of the Centre Plan by having spot development like this,” she said.

Other attendees, like Calvin Adam, believes the development is a good economic opportunity for the municipality. He said the project will “put food on the table of construction workers and Quinpool shop owners.”

Councillors weigh in

As council reconvened Wednesday, councillors each made statements regarding Tuesday’s hearing and the proposed decision deferment. Coun. Matt Whitman said he likes when the council “focuses on public good, not just height.”

Coun. Lorelei Nicoll was the only one to vote against the amendment. She agreed the location is a prime site and needs a boost, but she was not satisfied that the proposal provided enough benefit to the public.

After adjourning Wednesday’s public hearing, John Traves, Halifax’s director of legal services, reminded councillors they’re not allowed to have discussions about the proposal during the deferral.

Council will reconvene to review the Willow Tree staff report on March 20.