Council opens up YMCA building amendments to public debate

Halifax Regional Council has decided to hold public hearings on the YMCA’s request to build higher than is normally allowed near Citadel Hill.

By Lillianne Cadieux-Shaw

The site for the YMCA's future development is currently occupied by the CBC (Lillianne Cadieux-Shaw photo).

Halifax Regional Council has decided to hold public hearings on the YMCA’s request to build higher than is normally allowed near Citadel Hill.

The YMCA wants to expand its facility near Sackville and South Park Street.

Richard Harvey, acommunity development planner,  drafted the official report that went to Council. He says this process opens up the issue up for debate without making any commitments.

YMCA is looking to build up development on its current site and on the current CBC site.  CBC will be moving to Bell Road.

Current height restrictions limit the buildings around Citadel Hill to ensure that they are “sensitive to the historic fort,” according to a summary of the official Council report.

The height restrictions are part of the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy put in place in 1985. Its policy says the city has a responsibility to “maintain or recreate a sensitive and complimentary setting for Citadel Hill.”

External Links
Website of the future Halifax YMCA
Official Council report on  the YMCA proposed amendment
HRM official website

At its inception, this setting was defined by Band A: streets and buildings encompassing Citadel Hill. Height restrictions on buildings in this area were set at a maximum of 75 ft.

Andy Fillmore says the reasoning behind the height restrictions is obvious.  He acts as project manager for HRMbyDesign, the design committee for the Halifax region planning department created in 2009.

However, this group also allowed an amendment to the restrictions if “it is deemed by Council to confer significant economic, or social, or cultural benefits to HRM.” YMCA, then, has to make the case to Council that the construction of a building taller than the current limits will benefit Halifax and its residents.

The fact that the YMCA is a not-for-profit organization is certainly in its favour. It runs many community outreach programs and services for immigrants, youths and the unemployed.

Still, the case will not be one easily made. The two closest residences to the YMCA and CBC site are the pricey Martello Condominiums and Paramount Suites. The YMCA development may block some residents’ views of Citadel Hill, and provide unwanted shade on the Public Gardens.

Parks Canada operates Citadel Hill as a historic site.  It released an official statement saying it is “generally supportive of enhanced recreational facilities (but) its position is that the current height restrictions around the Citadel are important and should be retained.”

An artistic rendering of the YMCA's future developments (YMCA photo).

Even Harvey, the force behind the proposal, showed some reservations about the amendments.

“The whole idea behind HRMbyDesign height limits was so everyone would know the rules,” Harvey, as tweeted by The Coast during the Council meeting, said. “Now we’re just changing them willy-nilly.”

The YMCA has stated on its website that according to their computer models, there will be no “negative impact on the view from Citadel Hill or surrounding areas,” nor will the buildings be “casting a shadow over the Public Garden,” as the development on the CBC site will “largely be in the shadow of existing buildings.”

Now, it is up to the public hearing process to decide whether the current height restrictions are limiting or benefitting the downtown core.

“Some portions of the population may be dissatisfied with the result of the process,” says Harvey.

View the development site and surrounding lands in a Google map.
View YMCA development site and affected areas in a larger map