Mountains out of molehills: how luxury condos impact Halifax’s North End

November 24, 2016

Halifax residents are concerned about the rise of luxury condo developments in Halifax’s economically diverse North End.

According to a council recommendation from July 19 submitted by WM Fares Group, the empty lot on the corner of Roberts and Maynard Street might be replaced with an eight-storey condominium complex.

“They want it first. And they want it now. They’re kind of like bullies,” Peggy Cameron says. Cameron is a member of the Willow Tree Group.

Members of Willow Tree Group have been outspoken against condominium developments in the North End. The group is made up of concerned homeowners near Quinpool Road and Robie Street.

Cameron says that councillors have a role in regulating developments in the city, but they’ve been privileging developer plans over the concerns of local residents.

“City development is too intensive and too aggressive,” Cameron says.

There are currently 19 development proposals for Halifax and Dartmouth’s downtown core, according to Halifax Regional Planning and Development.

Willow Tree Group has asked council to delay a public hearing for the WM Fares Group development planning proposal on Maynard Street. The group claims that the eight-storey residential building is “out of scale” in the two-storey neighbourhood. However, council voted to move forward with the hearing.

Cameron and her group claims that high-rise, luxury condominiums have economic, social and environmental implications that could deteriorate the standard of living for local residents.

“Developers are privatizing your right to have access to sunlight and clean air,” Cameron says.

The height of the building is too overbearing in the area of mix-use, small-scale residential and retail properties, she says. This means that residents will not be able to enjoy the comfort of their own privacy or adequate sunlight.

“It was like looking at the wall of a fortress – absolutely no privacy,” Cameron says regarding the nearly-complete Q Lofts building.

Q Lofts, a condominium building designed by Polycorp Group, is located across the street from the proposed development property on Maynard Street. The group’s supposed “energy-efficient, large-scale” condominium building is “98% complete”, according to Catherine Hodgson, Polycorp Group sales manager.

Maynard Street, Cameron says, is targeted by developers because of the trends they see in renting and home owning in the North End. She says that students and young professionals move to the North End because of its charm.

However, Cameron says that condo developments add value to the surrounding area, which may cause landlords to increase rent costs, which may also cause low-income residents to seek cheaper housing in other neighbourhoods.

Cameron claims that there is a lack of communication from city councillors, developers and long-term residence.

“It’s a problematic process for citizen engagement. I believe a lot of citizens aren’t aware of this. And this creates an incentive for developers to push councillors to make decisions,” Cameron says.

“I am not against everything. But I am so disappointed by this city because there are so many missed opportunities.”

Cameron says there are two solutions. First, she suggests that city hall put a moratorium on development agreements until after the Centre Plan is complete.

According to Halifax Regional Planning and Development, the Centre Plan aims to create “sustained economic, environmental and social benefits” to reflect HRM’s current conditions. The plan seeks to cater new developments to the needs and concerns of local residents.

Second, Cameron asks council to slow down completion of the Centre Plan because citizens are not as engaged or informed as they ought to be.

“Developments in this city are too fast, too quick and too dirty. And I am skeptical,” Cameron says.

Cesar Saleh, WM Fares Group vice president of planning and design, says that it is a common misconception that WM Fares Group is the project’s development company.

“We are a consultation service. We design the buildings that our clients, the developers, want to build in the city.”

Saleh refuses to divulge the name of WM Fares Group’s client. However, according to Nova Scotia Property Online, Maynard Holdings Limited owns the proposed development property at 2480 Maynard Street. Property documents show that Maynard Holdings Limited took ownership of the property in 2012.

Although WM Fares Group provides a service to the property’s developers, they nonetheless play a role in the planning and design of the project.

WM Fares Group claims that the intent of the development project is to “increase vibrancy” of the “rhythmic” low-rise neighbourhood. According to recommendations to city council, WM Fares Group claims that the current state of Maynard Street “breaks-up” the “vibrant” neighbourhood due to empty lots and automotive services. They hope that their project will “re-stitch” the fabric of this community.

According to Polycorp Group, the prices of Q Lofts condo units range from $299 900 to $474 900. Compared to condos in The Trillium building on South Park Street, Q Lofts prices are relatively cheap. Property records show that the most valuable condo unit in The Trillium costs $1.7 million.

However, statistics show that residents of Maynard Street and surrounding areas may not be able to afford even the cheapest condo units in the city.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 40.6% of the population living in the area of Maynard and Roberts Street, make less than Statistics Canada’s low-income measure. According to Statistics Canada, the low-income measure is $19 460 for one-person households.

Local business owners say developments in the North End may be more beneficial than residents think.

“It makes me so happy and I am hopeful for the future,” Ian Fraser says. Fraser owns Obsolete Records on Agricola Street.

Born and raised in the North End, Fraser thought that the possibility of opening a record store in his neighbourhood would be a challenge.

However, after maintaining his business for six years, Fraser is optimistic of Halifax’s future cityscape. He says business developments in the North End has made his striving business possible.

“There was an Obsolete Records before new developments and there will be an Obsolete Records after they are complete,” Fraser said.

Fraser hasn’t heard any complaints from regular customers. However, he is concerned that new condominiums will change the area’s demographic.

“New condo developments could have an impact on the class diversity here in the North End. But, you have to be hopeful.”

Fraser says that the majority of his customers are university students and young professionals. He fears that the driving costs of rent might push students away.

“You don’t want to change the feel of an area just because you want to build condos,” Fraser says. “Be aware. Don’t develop for the sake of development. Know the area you are going to invest your money in.”

Frasers says that local businesses and new developments are coexisting so far, regardless of fears of gentrification.

“It proves that we can exist together in one community,” Fraser says.

Halifax and West Community Council approved planning amendments for two WM Fares Group projects during a council meeting on Nov. 15, including a development proposal for a residential building on Coburg Road.

HRM’s District 8 Councillor Lindell Smith echoed Fraser’s concerns after the council meeting.

“Anything new brings something new. New development brings new people,” Smith said.

Smith says that new businesses owners have expressed excitement about new condominium developments. However, Smith is concerned about long-time and small business owners. He says they are worried that new condominiums might drive customers to more affordable locations.

“If there is no reason for developers to look at affordability, then they don’t have to do it. And we can do better than that,” Smith said.

According to Smith’s website, the councillor suggests that affordable housing in the North End can be achieved by imposing inclusionary zoning regulations on new developments to include affordable housing units for people with low-incomes.

“So far we have talked to residents and the Centre Plan has allowed for engagement and has fixed things where they have been wrong. I think it’s important that we are doing that,” Smith said.

The date of the public hearing for the Maynard Street condominium project is yet to be announced.


Former Liberian refugee finds hope in helping others

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Rahime Konneh sits farthest left, beside musician Owen Lee.

Rahime Konneh hopes that his big idea will improve the lives of visually impaired people in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Konneh was the second panellist in Thursday evening’s Racism is Killing Us Softly lecture series, a discussion hosted by Dalhousie’s Black Student Advising Centre in the Student Union Building. This discussion was about the challenges and successes that young black men face.

As a former Liberian refugee in Sierra Leone for several years, Konneh said he was faced with the challenges of war, death and a visual impairment.

“I almost lost hope of pursuing my academic dream because I couldn’t read,” Konneh said.

Konneh’s proposed project, called Ability Over Disability, that he says will bring 150 computers with visual assistive technologies to junior high and high schools in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Visual assistive technology can be computer software, like, can range from computer programs that can read to you or magnify the text on computer screens to optical character recognition systems that that can read off print from a paper documents.

Konneh said he did not know he had glaucoma until he decided to pursue an education in community development studies and ecology in Sierra Leone. Konneh said that having a visual impairment made reading textbooks challenging and caused him to fall behind in class.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in young people like Konneh.

“It was a painful experience and I do not want to revisit it,” Konneh said.

After completing his studies in Sierra Leone without visual assistive technology, Konneh said he found work with two non-governmental organizations where he experienced the hardship of fellow refugees and those affected with HIV.

Konneh moved to Canada in 2010. After working for his friends for a year, Konneh began his studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is now at Dalhousie University where he will receive his double major degree in political science and international development studies in three months.

“When I got here I was fortunate to have access to assistive technologies and so far I have been able to perform academic work efficiently.”

Now, Konneh wants to give back to his Liberian brothers and sisters.

“What can I do as a person who is visually impaired and as a person who faced challenges back in Africa? What can I do at this point after learning from all these experiences?”

Konneh said schools that want to receive these computers must have a minimum of 10 visually impaired students. The schools would have to pay around $150 every six months in order to make Konneh’s project sustainable.

Konneh is raising money to make his proposed project a reality.

“I encourage you tonight that regardless of our individual challenges we can still instil a better life in people.”

Halifax Explosion anniversary committee seek award winning poet

Barry Cahill is a retired provincial civil servant (Photo: Fadila Chater)

(*** This is an original draft of the article published by The Signal***)

Canada’s newest parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke may be asked to produce an original piece of work to mark the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

The Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee met at NSCC Institution of Technology campus on Wednesday to discuss grant recommendations for local organizations who wish to participate in next year’s centennial.

Committee member Barry Cahill raised the motion for the committee to contact Clarke to see if he would be interested in having his work commissioned by HRM.

“If anyone would be approached to do this, George is the one,” Cahill said.

Clarke, native Nova Scotian and person of African-American and Mi’kmaq descent, is a nationally acclaimed poet and playwright. Clarke’s work offers a political and historical insight on the experiences of African-Canadians, particularly in Nova Scotia.

Clarke has won several awards and recognitions. In 2008, he received the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations from the city of Toronto. In 2001, he received the Governor General’s Award for his poetic anthology, “Execution Poems”.

In a recent Globe and Mail article Clarke is said to be writing historical poetry to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion.

Having read this article about Clarke’s interest in writing about the Halifax Explosion, Cahill said he immediately thought about contacting the poet to ask him to contribute his work in the community collaboration.

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In attendance at Wednesday’s meeting were committee members and staff. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

During the meeting, newly appointed committee member Dan O’Brien raised concern over whether asking Clarke to be commissioned by HRM would be inconsiderate to local poets. O’Brien said that Halifax’s poet laureate is to be announced this month, and commissioning Clarke’s work would possibly snub the new poet laureate.

“My fear is if he would be stepping on toes. I’m worried about a conflict of interest between the Halifax laureate poet and us commissioning George Elliott Clarke,” O’Brien said.

In regards to O’Brien’s concerns, chairman Craig Walkington explained that there is no conflict of interest and that such matter should be left alone.

“I don’t think George writing a piece and the Halifax poet laureate are mutually exclusive, one doesn’t exist at the expense of the other,” Walkington said.

The committee concluded with the motion for staff to investigate the feasibility of HRM requesting George Elliott Clarke to commission a piece of art.

Cahill has known Clarke for over 20 years, having shared in an interest in the history of African Nova Scotians. In particular, James R. Johnston, who was the first African Nova Scotian to graduate with a law degree.

“George is a very prominent African Nova-Scotian and a source of pride for everyone in this province,” Cahill said.

Cahill said that Clarke would have exclusive insight on how the Halifax Explosion impacted the African Nova Scotian community in Halifax.

“George is one of us,” Cahill said, “he knows the history, he’s interested in the history.”

The next committee meeting is scheduled for February 17th at a location yet to be announced.

Film Society explores PTSD through Israeli film

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Sarah Clift teaches a course about the philosophy of memory and trauma at the University of King’s College. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

(Written on November 21st, 2o15)

By Fadila Chater

Students gathered in the G. Peter Wilson Common Room at the University of King’s College Thursday to watch artistic depictions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Israeli film, Waltz with Bashir.

The film tells the story of director Ari Folman and his struggle to remember his years as an Israeli soldier in the Lebanon War of 1982. He encounters his memories in a series of PTSD induced flashbacks.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental illness that affects those who have experienced first-hand trauma. Symptoms of PTSD include hallucinations, flashbacks and loss of memory about aspects of the traumatic event.

Sarah Clift, a professor at the University of King’s College and expert in the philosophical study of memory, chose to screen the film because of its unique depiction of trauma and PTSD.

“It certainly does capture the essence of the haunting that is so unbelievably debilitating,” said Clift, referring to the symptoms of PTSD.

In November, the Canadian Military released a report that details 80 suicides among regular male soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces between 2001-2014. In an investigation by the Globe and Mail, the number of soldiers who committed suicide after returning from the Afghanistan war is a third of the number of soldiers who were killed while serving in it.

PTSD among soldiers has doubled over the last decade and is said to be the cause of a percentage of suicides.

“There is a kind of crisis of masculinity, if I can put it that way, that is signaled, I think, by the failure of military officials and their infrastructure to provide adequate facilities and resources for soldiers with PTSD,” said Clift.

The film depicts hallucinogenic scenes of lost memory against stark yellows and greys. Bloody war violence is often shown in gruesome detail.

Audience members grimaced at shocking images of death and torture. The final moments of the film show real life images of a street littered with the bodies of the dead, causing some students to shield their eyes or cry.

“The scene when the woman is coming towards you crying because her village was destroyed really brings home the reality and gravity of the situation,” said movie-goer Daniel Platts.

The King’s Foreign Film Society hosted the event. Film Society member Taylor Saracuse concluded the screening by encouraging students in the room to discuss their thoughts.

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First year student Layla Gibson says that she is interested in learning more about PTSD and trauma. (Photo: Fadila Chater)

“We are sitting here in Foundation Year Programme, talking about what a table is, and there are people dying right now. I’m not discrediting philosophy, but meditating on the issues of this film puts you in your place,” said Layla Gibson, a first-year student.

Halifax council receives Khyber building proposal

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Robin Metcalfe (pictured) says he’s hopeful that the 1855 Barrington Building Preservation Society proposal will not disappoint Halifax Council. (photo: Fadila Chater) Artwork by Mario Doucette

(Written on October 25, 2015)

By Fadila Chater

After a six-month collaboration, the 1588 Barrington Building Preservation Society has come up with a hefty proposal for Halifax council in maintaining the historic Khyber building.

The 127-year-old Khyber building contains asbestos and lead. Municipal staff recommended disposing off the building, but last year council voted to keep it. Council later gave the coalition six months to come up with a proposal to fix the building.

The 1588 society is a coalition of the Khyber Centre for the Arts Society, the Friends of the Khyber advocate group, the Neptune Theatre Society and musician Joel Plaskett.

Robin Metcalfe, director of Saint Mary’s University art gallery and president of the 1588 Society, is confident that the proposal will satisfy council.

“I think we have produced a very strong proposal. It’s very thoroughly researched with all the appropriate expertise,” said Metcalfe.

Halifax architect company, G.F. Duffus & Co. Ltd., has worked with the 1588 Society on a model that would increase space and accessibility in the Khyber and preserve the building’s historic characteristics. The proposal includes ramped access and an elevator.

The society has proposed to share building space with Neptune Theatre.


The Khyber
The Khyber building has been closed since April 2014 due to the discovery of asbestos in the building’s insulation. (photo: Fadila Chater)

“Neptune, as part of the theatre community, is also aware of the need for more small spaces for independent theatre, and that is one of the things we are addressing in the building. I think they just want to be good neighbours,” Metcalfe said.The proposed plan costs less than the estimated $4 million that HRM had calculated six months earlier.

“We have been very thorough in our costing. We have also been conservative in estimating our revenues and have given some leeway in estimating our costs,” said Metcalfe.

The society is now looking for commercial establishments that would complement the activities of the building and would also bring in revenue.

The proposal has been received by city councillors and could take months to be completely assessed.

NDP childcare promise neglects daycare availability say parents

Ian Grey, a father.

(Written on October 1st, 2015)

By Fadila Chater

The New Democratic Party have promised to implement the National Child Care Program. The program will make one million daycare spots for children over an eight-year span at the parents’ expense of $15-a-day.

NDP Member of Parliament, Megan Leslie, has spoken out about childcare reform. She has criticized the Conservatives for “helping the richest members of our society but refusing to help parents by investing in affordable child care services.”

For Ian Gray, a lawyer and young father, affording childcare wasn’t his primary concern. Finding 20-month-old Jimmy Gray a daycare in Halifax was nothing short of a daunting task.

“For us, what’s important is being able to have our kid cared for and that allows me and my wife to work,” says Gray

In the months leading up to Jimmy Gray’s first day of day care, Ian Gray sought childcare from his sister-in-law. It was months later that Gray’s colleague told him about a position available at Little Ladybug’s Child Care Centre.

Walker, Dunlop Barristers and Solicitors, where Ian Gray works [photo: Fadila Chater]
Although a supporter of the NDP, Gray is skeptical of the party’s $15-a-day National Child Care Program.

Statistics Canada states that in 2011 there were an estimated 2 217 355 children under the age of six living with a family. If the NDP’s National Child Care Program spaces one million spots evenly over the span of eight years, this means that 125 000 spots will be available each year. Less than six per cent of children, under the NDP National Child Care Program, will have a spot in daycare across Canada in one year.

“What I’d like to see rather is an increased emphasis on expanding access. The problem is that its hard to find a spot, not so much that the spot, once you find it, isn’t affordable.”