There have been a lot of concerns raised about areas along Gottingen and Agricola being designated "Primary Growth Areas" (PGAs), and understandably so. The last report released on the Centre Plan, "Where and How Should We Grow?" left a lot open for interpretation. Recommended building options for PGAs were identified as "tall" (7 storeys or more) and "moderate" (4-6 storeys), but provided no specifics on what would go where. I met with Jacob Ritchie and his Centre Plan team in July to discuss this issue and get a better understanding of the reasoning behind the document. My concerns being if the areas were over zoned for height, there would be major implications on the neighbourhood character, and assessments would go through the roof due to development speculation. I was assured that the Gottingen and Agricola Primary Growth Areas were only being considered for moderate development. Having a "Primary Growth Area" designation was a recognition of growth currently happening, and the need for a plan that addressed future development at a neighbourhood level.
So when will this happen? In response to this question, Mr. Ritchie provided the following communique:
"The Centre Plan will be the first comprehensive planning effort for the Regional Centre in over 30 years. With your help, the Centre Plan team has worked hard to develop a plan for the future of how the Regional Centre will grow in an appropriate manner. The Centre Plan must be thorough. It needs to address seven theme areas and six different components of the urban structure (see details currently on CentrePlan.ca). To do this thoughtfully, the draft Centre Plan is extensive – and to ensure members of the public have the opportunity to review the Centre Plan thoroughly, it will be released in installments starting September and through October and be accompanied by opportunities to meet with the Centre Plan team to discuss the rationale for the decisions that have been made in the draft.
Later this week, the Centre Plan team will be releasing a document that will re-introduce The Centre Plan Purpose and Theme Area Overview, summarize the introduction chapter, include the objectives for each of the seven theme areas, and include the date and time information for the events that we will be hosting. We look forward to sharing the draft policies and updated urban structure based on the great feedback we’ve gotten to date on our work.
Thank you for your continued interest in the Centre Plan, your patience as we’ve been working on the draft, and your participation in the draft plan review process to date and into the fall.
We are looking forward to providing further input on the Centre Plan and will share any Centre Plan event announcements through Facebook, Twitter, and our website.
In addition to concerns over the "Primary Growth Area" designations, NEBA brought forward a number of other considerations for the Centre Plan. Here is a quick summary:
a) Street Festivals Street festivals are important events that support both the community and local economic development. We would like to see a clause similar to the street festival clause in the downtown plan for the North End, particularly for the areas designated in the Business Improvement District.
b) Change Agent Clause or Entertainment District Policy With more and more mixed-use development and less separation between commercial and residential uses, tensions between ‘land uses’ can become an issue. We would like a made-in-Halifax policy developed for the Centre Plan to protect our important commercial districts and entertainment establishments.
c) Higher Environmental Building Standard In many places higher environmental design and construction standards are now law. This is the way of the future. Higher design and construction standards that reduce the environmental impact of our city should be standard — not just encouraged through density bonusing.
d) New Standards for Streetscaping This would include permitting curb bump outs, better landscaping (trees and greenery), better street/sidewalk lighting, sidewalk right-of-ways over roads (where the sidewalk treatment crosses the road, rather than the other way around), better accessibility design. We would like to see new standards for our street introduced to support all users of our public right-of-ways and to bring our city up-to-date sooner rather than later.
e) Preserving and Increasing Right-of-Ways and Public Spaces The importance of public space increases with dense apartment style development. We need the public space infrastructure to create a quality urban experience. This is particularly important for the Agricola Street area (maybe Bloomfield could serve the purpose for public space?), and right-of-ways off Gottingen that are currently being considered for sale as remnant property.
f) Affordable Housing There is a need, particularly in the North End, for housing for people earning less than the average Halifax salary, and on income-assistance. This should include not only “small units”, but family units as well.
g) European Corners vs. the Podium While the podium tower is popular — collectively they do not necessarily create a pleasing urban landscape. In areas where moderate buildings will be permitted, it is worth considering what I’m calling “the European corner.” This style of building can create gateways that define districts. It involves permitting extra height on strategic gateway corners, and stepping down the façade on the sides.
h) Transitional Zoning for Agricola (North of North) In the “Young Street” Primary Growth Area, the ‘green’ block extends to one side of Agricola. But Agricola is very different that Robie or Young. There is a need to provide a height formula specific to what is suitable for the street.
i) Protecting Historical Assets The North End has many historic buildings, streetscapes and residential areas that are foundational to the areas unique identity and sense of community. These areas and building assets need protecting.
k) Accommodating Parking As a commercial district, parking is a necessity. Municipal parking lots (small local ones) are common in cities. An integrated approach that includes a combination of private and public investment through small surface lots, public parking in new developments and a better street parking strategy.