HALIFAX: A vote tally screen never had so many eyes on it all in anticipation of the result as did the one at Halifax Regional Council on Tuesday night, Nov. 8.
The voting came after an almost four-hour public hearing where councillors overwhelmingly heard from more than 30 residents why a Municipal Planning Strategy amendment that would have seen the removal of a road connection between Ingram Drive and Cobequid Road, over CN rail lines should not happen.
CN has consistently said, in the almost two decades since developer Larry Gibson of Perry Lake Developments has tried to get the development approved, it can’t support a crossing there due to safety concerns.
Gibson had proposed to build on just four acres of the 30 acres of land he owns at the site, building three storey, 40-unit buildings (120 total). That proposal was denied by North West Community Council last month, a decision he is appealing to the NSUARB.
However at the council meeting, solicitor John Traves and several councillors commented that it would be highly unlikely an appeal at the UARB would be successful if council defeated the motion before them as it was an MPS and not bylaw.
Gibson, along with consultant Kevin Riles with KWR provided a presentation after HRM Planner Shayne Vipond made HRM staff’s presentation on why the public hearing was being held.
During the public hearing, residents again and again stated their concerns with the development bringing more traffic to their residential subdivision that is narrow and winding in places, only has two entrances (Winley Drive and Richardson Drive); has no sidewalks; sees vehicles speed; make it dangerous to walk or kids to bike/play; isn’t a fit for their community as it’s not near any services or infrastructure, like transit; adds to the local schools that are close to or over capacity now; and more.
There were residents who spoke in favour of the removal of the policy for the road connection, including former MP Peter Stoffer, who among other things highlighted the developers history and family roots, and how he is a good person.
Some even indicated that the residents against the road connection removal were those with NIMBYism (Not in My Backyard). Several who spoke responded to that assertion, indicating that was not the case at all.
“We’re not NIMBYs. We’re just looking for smart development,” said one woman in her speech. “We have genuine concerns here. We’re not the bad guys.”
It was noted on a couple of occasions that during the public engagement process—whether it was at the first public meeting on the proposal or follow-up meetings—Gibson did not attend or participate, and never once approached the same residents who are his neighbours to engage with them on the proposal.
One resident that spoke said he found it discouraging the developer didn’t come to the community to talk to them.
“A resolution could have been had,” said the resident to the council.
Mary McDaid spoke first, saying Fall River residents are not against developments. She spoke of comments Mayor Mike Savage had said before on a different topic. He said, “development means greater density where it can be best accommodated in sustainable connected communities.”
“We as a community support sustainable, smart development that is enhanced by the necessary underpinning infrastructure,” said McDaid.
Steve Duff said in the quarter century his family has called Fall River home he has never seen a community more United in its resolve that the proposed development was “ill considered, out of place and downright dangerous.”
He related a story of a near collision involving a vehicle running a red light while he travelled in Dartmouth recently.
Just like the near collision, with CN denying the road access over the rail line it feels like the developer thinks rules should no longer apply.
“The Ingram drive extension is a big accident waiting to happen,” said Duff.
Resident Jay Cameron said granting the request to remove the road connection would be “out of step for low density residential subdivision.”
“Granting this would also be de facto for the development agreement,” he said.
He also said Gibson had the opportunity to engage with residents and the community but remained behind the scenes.
Maria Radelich and her husband Mike are direct neighbours to the proposed development. They both are pro-development. The young couple moved to the area in April 2020.
“But we strongly oppose the road connection being approved without access to Cobequid Road,” said Radelich. “The city and province needs development, but it has to be appropriate development.
“Council can’t cave to developers just to pad one persons pockets.”
She said if the road connection were to be removed it would change their outlook of living in the community long-term.
“It would change everything on why we moved to Fall River and would make us strongly consider moving if it was removed,” she said.
Radelich said council needs to work on developments that make sense and not waste staffs time on developments that don’t, such as this.
Ellen Hatt gave the perspective of a kid living in Fall River Village to now an adult, having lived with her parents at Sheffield Court. She mentioned wanting a spot where her aging parents could go live.
Earl Hatt, one of the aging parents Ellen mentioned, said like many in the community who took the time to attend the meeting, they are not against development, but for it. If it’s done right.
“I’m saddened we’re here in a mud fight because HRM can’t get developments done right,” he said. “We’re not going to change CN’s mind with a crossing.”
He said the focus should be on Hwy 2 and not where infrastructure doesn’t exist.
“I don’t see this as development done right,” said Hatt. “Let’s let this die tonight and move on to bigger, better things.”
Kevin Turlo and his family moved from Toronto, Ont. to Fall River specifically because of its feel. He’s proud to call it home.
While there were many golf analogies throughout the public hearing, Turlo said he doesn’t golf but is a rugby player. So he used that as his analogy saying he’s three good goal kicks away from the development site.
“It seems for 19 years the developer hasn’t been able to make a kick through the goal posts and is crying for someone to do it for him,” said Turbo.
For awhile during councillors discussions on the motion before them—to approve the removal of the road connection between Ingram Drive and Cobequid Road—it appeared, and very much to those in council chambers sounded, like the need for housing in HRM was going to trump any concerns residents in Fall River Village had over the road connection removal.
Before voting commenced, Councillor Cathy Deagle Gammon spoke one last time to her council colleagues about the importance of the vote they were about to do. She has lived in the community for 28 years.
“They say if you build it they will come. So we got a Sobeys since I moved there. We got a pharmacy since I moved there. We have another garage since I moved there,” she said. ‘No infrastructure. No transit in 28 years so to say build it and we’ll get more infrastructure, that’s not been my experience at all.”
She expressed her disappointment in some of her colleagues as well.
“I’m really disappointed in some of my colleagues when I listen to them. I don’t get it,” she said.
Deagle Gammon said if HRM needs to figure out the right policy then they need to do that without replicating past mistakes.
“Let’s not make a bad decision tonight,” she said. ‘I urge you to defeat this motion.”
As the votes were filed and then the end result displayed on the two TV screens in council chambers at City Hall, all the eyes of the full gallery of residents who had come to the public hearing were squarely focused.
When it came time for the results to be shown, it indicated a tie and councillors made some quick quips and then Mayor Mike Savage told the crowd that a tie vote meant the motion was essentially defeated.
After those words were said, many in the crowd congratulated each other with hugs and handshakes as they had won—even if just by default–essentially ensuring that the road connection would remain in place in the policy.