QEII expansion parking lot debate: The story so far

Premier Stephen McNeil, Coun. Waye Mason at odds over key parkade facts

A proposed parkade in central Halifax has sparked public outcry and debate among politicians.

The design plans for a major expansion to the Halifax Infirmary, which includes a parkade placed beside the Museum of Natural History, were unveiled on Jan. 28.

Neighbours of the proposed construction site, city councillors and even the premier were drawn into a discussion about the Halifax Common, health services and the purchase of municipal space.

Here’s where the discussion is at now, and background on how it all started.

Most recent developments: the non-disclosure agreement

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is defending the province’s plans for a seven-storey parkade and refuting claims that Halifax staff were barred from discussing plans with the public.

Last week, CBC reported that Halifax’s chief administrative officer, Jacques Dubé, emailed elected officials, claiming they were subject to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

In a letter published online Tuesday afternoon, McNeil said city staff were directed to meet with the surrounding tenants of the Halifax Common about the proposed plan.

Coun. Waye Mason addressed McNeil’s Feb. 4 letter online, stating it wasn’t true and, in fact, the city was barred from talking about the plans.

Why is the debate happening now?

The QEII New Generation project was announced in 2016, but the project’s details trickled out over the following years.

The plan is an overhaul of many Halifax-area health-care services. It includes new facilities in Bayers Lake, a cancer treatment centre and Hospice Halifax improvements. The project has a price tag of about $2 billion.

The plan includes a major expansion to the Halifax Infirmary, which will see the addition of more than 600 beds and an expansion of the building’s in-patient services.

That project needs a parkade and energy plant, and the location of both is key to the current debate.

Why has a parking garage stirred up controversy?

The area in question falls under Coun. Waye Mason’s district in downtown Halifax. Mason was one of the first to bring the parkade’s development into public discussion. He drafted a letter to the premier on Jan. 27 outlining his concerns.

Mainly, Mason thought the province wasn’t being transparent about the plans by not releasing them publicly, especially since the parkade would invariably impact the nature of the Halifax Common.

McNeil said the province gave ample warning about the parkade in a news release in October. The release did not include a plan of the proposed parkade.

On Jan. 28, the province released a tender, outlining what the redesign would actually look like if approved.

The Halifax Infirmary’s proposed 900-car parkade is shown wedged between the Museum of Natural History, the Halifax Wanderers’ Grounds and the paddock of the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers horseback riding group.

Who would be affected by the proposed design?

The Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers, the Halifax Wanderers soccer team, and the Museum of Natural History will be the parkade’s neighbours.

After the plan was released, the Lancers took to Facebook and Twitter to voice their dismay. According to the group, they weren’t consulted before the plan was made public. They said the design would impede their training space and limit the programs they can run.

Angie Holt, the Lancers’ executive director and head coach, said the proposed plan would have a “huge impact” on the group.

Holt gestures to the space where the proposed parkade would sit, taking up most of the pictured paddock space.   Sam Gillett

Halifax’s new soccer team, the Halifax Wanderers, stated online that they would be affected as well. Their bleachers border the proposed parkade site, and it would block access to their concession area and some entrances.

Friends of the Halifax Common, a group which seeks to preserve the city’s central green space, has come out against the plan as well.

Since the plan was made public, hundreds of people have voiced their opposition, many agreeing with Mason that the province hasn’t been transparent about how the plan will progress.

Marcel Tarnogorski, an architectural intern, prepared a concept of how the parkade might look if built as designed in the tender.

On Saturday, advocates gathered on the site of the proposed parkade to have a picnic. This was in response to comments made by Halifax Citadel-Sable Island MLA Labi Kousoulis. In a media conference, he claimed “nobody uses” the area where the parkade would be built.

In a Feb. 4 online statement, McNeil reinforced the news release’s claim that any company awarded the tender will have to consult with the Wanderers and the Lancers going forward.

What role does the city have in the plan?

Currently, the province owns almost all the land needed to build the parkade and expand the Infirmary, with the exception of a narrow strip of park space the province would need to buy. That strip accounts for a large chunk of the land needed to build the parkade.

But McNeil said the city was responsible for liaising with the Bengal Lancers and the Halifax Wanderers, since they are on municipally owned space.

According to Mason, HRM staff couldn’t do that because of the NDA — and the province only requested this in mid-January.

What’s next?

There are no plans for public consultation on the parkade’s design, but the project is expected to be discussed at Halifax regional council next week.

On Wednesday, Mason retweeted a petition circulating online calling for the province to “Protect the Halifax Common — Don’t build on the Nova Scotia Museum Property.”

Mason suggested online that the province could build the parkade on any number of adjacent properties, such as the CBC building on Bell Road that’s set to be demolished.

Lloyd Hines, provincial minister of transportation and infrastructure renewal, told reporters on Thursday that there’s no plans to change the location or design of the parkade.

“We don’t have any reason at this point in time to change any of that design,” said Hines.

Construction on the parkade and the Halifax Infirmary renovations are set to begin in March.

Sam Gillett

Sam Gillett

Sam calls Orillia, Ontario home. When he's not chasing Signal stories, he can be found sketching in cafes, watching soccer or following news about professional motocross.

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