Skye Halifax will hurt HRM’s appeal

The Skye Halifax development would be detrimental to Halifax’s appeal, says Save the View member Philip Pacey.

By Philippa Wolff

The Skye Halifax development would be detrimental to Halifax’s appeal, says Save the View member Philip Pacey.

Philip Pacey looks at HRM staff's rendering of what the Citadel Hill ramparts view may look like with Skye Halifax. (Philippa Wolff photo)

Pacey, member of the Save the View coalition and the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, one of 11 groups in the coalition, says Halifax’s strength as an attraction is in its heritage, not in tall buildings.

“Our history and our heritage buildings is our brand,” said Pacey. “Before we throw away our brand, we better be sure that we have something there, and nobody would come to Halifax to see the Skye tower. We just cannot compete (with bigger cities’ buildings).”

Skye Halifax, a United Gulf Developments Ltd. project, would be a 48-storey building at 1591 Granville Street. Halifax Regional Municipality staff estimate that at least 22 of these storeys would be visible from the Citadel Hill ramparts.

“Parks Canada put a lot of money in to make (Citadel Hill) an authentic experience for visitors, and it is the top tourist attraction that we have in the HRM,” said Pacey. “To have a couple of towers sticking up above the ramparts, you would be continually reminded of the outside world.”

HRM staff's image projection of the Citadel ramparts view with Skye Halifax. (HRM photo)

He adds that Citadel Hill is not the only historical site that could be affected. Barrington Street Heritage Conservation District is also close to the potential Skye Halifax site.

“It’s important that heritage buildings have a good context,” said Pacey.

“A building of the height that is proposed is going to be visible from kilometres away. You couldn’t be able to mistake the fact that it’s there.”

Regional councillors debated the value of Skye Halifax extensively Feb. 21. They went back and forth for over an hour with nearly every councillor speaking.

Coun. Mary Wile (Clayton Park West) said that council is trying to “keep historical Halifax” and “revitalize downtown” at the same time, a task that she said regional council cannot accomplish.

“We are going to have to be a little progressive,” she said.

The decision of Skye Halifax being put up for public debate won out. Coun. Dawn Sloane’s (Halifax Downtown) motion to not initiate amendments that would allow for the construction of Skye Halifax was defeated 14 to six.

Pacey says the current limitations established by HRMbyDesign allow for two or three times the actual amount of square footage that potential development will require. He cites a Turner Drake study (PDF) that HRM commissioned in 2008.

“The reason that we don’t have more development in downtown Halifax is not because the rules are too strict and not because there’s insufficient supply,” he said. “It’s because there’s insufficient demand.”

“Something like the shipbuilding contract is important, but it’s not a game changer. It’s not going to cause us to grow at a huge rate.”

Coun. Peter Lund (Hammonds Plains – St. Margaret’s) disagrees. He said at the regional council meeting that the contract, which is projected to be a draw for workers, is a significant “unforeseen circumstance.” Policy 89 of the Downtown Halifax Secondary Municipal Planning Strategy requires such a circumstance to make amendments such as those to allow for Skye Halifax’s height.

Related Audio
20120226-philippacey 

Philip Pacey discusses the value of heritage to Halifax’s appeal.

More from Pacey (mp3)

An extended interview with Pacey (10:29).

Regardless of the demand or potential demand for taller buildings, Pacey says that HRM’s focus should be heritage.

“We should look for things we can compete in and look for things that work for us,” he said. “It’s sort of like a person starting a career. I would be extremely foolish to decide that I’m going to take up a career as an opera singer. I wouldn’t make the cut, right?”

“We need leadership that recognizes what our strengths are and promotes our strengths.”

According to the council report on the proposed amendments (PDF) City Hall distributed prior to Feb. 21’s meeting, the next step for Skye Halifax will be a “comprehensive review of the issues associated with the application” that will include public consultation. Regional council is also required to hold a public hearing on the matter. The date for this hearing is as of yet undetermined.