By Philippa Wolff
A lack of initiative on the part of the city and property owners is what’s causing demolition of older Halifax homes to make way for new developments, says Dawn Sloane, city councillor for Halifax Downtown.
“My concern is, incentive-wise, are we doing as much as we can as a municipality to help protect our heritage?” said Sloane Tuesday morning. “I don’t think we are. I think, like recreation, heritage is one of those back burner issues to some and they’re not really a priority.”
Sloane voted at Peninsula Community Council Monday evening in favour of an agreement with Harbour City Homes to build an affordable housing development in the Brunswick Street Heritage Area. The developer would tear down three homes, which are not registered heritage properties, built in the late 1800s to do so.
Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia member Philip Pacey, who attended the meeting, says that he’s “extremely disappointed” with council’s decision.
“The staff report and the council interpreted the policies (for preservation on Brunswick St.) as making it easier to demolish the buildings on Brunswick St. than it is in all of the other R-2 areas in the city,” Pacey said.
R-2 zoning areas allow for a maximum of four units per building.
Sloane says she voted “yes” because she wants to bring more people downtown and make Halifax “walkable,” but she regrets that the older homes, which are located near Brunswick and North, will be demolished.
“Unfortunately, they’re not registered heritage properties and it makes it very difficult when an owner does not wish to have them registered,” she said. “You can’t force someone into doing that.”
She says the Harbour City Homes development will not discourage heritage protection, because heritage is “already on the back burner.”
“That’s the problem,” she said, adding that heritage incentives are among the first things that get cut when council looks at budgets.
Harbour City Homes has been working on this project for about two and a half years, said architect Rayleen Hill Monday night. The organization worked to replicate the Georgian architectural style, which is prevalent in Halifax and includes mansard roofs, “box” frame windows and “varying dormer styles,” says the Halifax Regional Municipality staff report (PDF).
Sloane notes, however, that she thinks the attempt to replicate the older architecture style is “modest.”
“When I looked at the drawings the first time, I was kind of hesitant to say that they were fantastic,” Sloane said.
“You’ll never, ever be able to replicate history, no matter what you do … Original beams, original features, are priceless. You can’t try and replicate those.”
However, Sloane says that she supported the development agreement because it provides affordable housing that could build the Peninsula’s population.
“When we started talking about HRMbyDesign and density and bringing the population back on the Peninsula,” Sloane said, “this kind of development was basically what we were desiring.”
She says the proposed building’s 10 two-bedroom units in addition to 24 one-bedroom units promote family population in the downtown area.
Pacey says there are other empty lots in the downtown area that could be used. He adds that older houses are also a valuable source.
“We have a large stock of existing buildings and those existing buildings are already built. There’s no cost to them and they can provide extremely good, affordable housing. To be tearing down affordable housing in order to build new affordable housing is simply counterproductive,” he said.
The Harbour City Homes development was one of two multiple unit dwellings that made headway Monday evening. Council approved re-zoning on Windsor St. to allow for a new mid-rise apartment building.