Halifax is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, so it’s no surprise there’s a lot of construction around town. But it’s what’s coming down — not what’s going up — that has one group concerned.
Development Options Halifax is a volunteer group of citizens who say they want to see a better balance between the interest of developers and the municipality’s residents. Members say there are too many demolitions happening across the city, so they created a map to illustrate the issue.
“I thought, ‘Whoa, where are we going with this? Where is the city headed?” said map developer William Breckenridge. “We want it to be a conversation starter: How do we look at city growth?”
The map shows all the demolition permits issued from January 2020 to June 2022. Breckenridge said the list includes both partial and full demolitions, because the municipality does not distinguish between the two.
Regardless, he said the number of permits issued is “shocking.”
“We’re actually in a time where we need more units right away,” Breckenridge said. “In four months, you can renovate a building, instead of waiting two years for the permits for everything else that the province has had to go and make a special council about because it’s taking too long for permits to go through.”
He said the city seems to be going through another “mass tear down,” similar to 60 years ago when the city demolished residential buildings to make way for the Cogswell interchange.
“We shouldn’t have torn down 12-plus blocks of the city, and now we’re having to rebuild it all. Imagine if all that was already there? … We’re not doing things in a sensible, logical manner.”
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Moratorium on demolitions
The group has now started a petition that calls on the province to implement a moratorium on all demolitions until they’re better regulated. It says the current path is leading to a lack of affordable housing, causing the over-densification of neighbourhoods, and contributing greatly to the climate crisis.
When asked about the request, a spokesperson with the department of municipal affairs and housing said it doesn’t fall under its mandate and referred Global News to the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Klara Needler, spokesperson for HRM, said no one was available for an interview, but in an email statement, said anyone can apply for a demolition permit online.
“The application is reviewed by staff, and if minimum requirements are met, the permit is issued,” Needler said, adding that if the application pertains to a heritage property, it must be voted on by regional council.
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‘Gobsmacked’ by number of active permits
There are currently 87 active permits on the peninsula.
“I was gobsmacked,” said Larry Haiven, a Development Options Halifax group member.
“I just couldn’t believe how many demolitions there are. It really boggles the imagination.”
Haiven has lived in the Schmidtville Heritage District for 22 years. His home was built in the 1860s.
“You can demolish a house here, but only under very stringent conditions,” he said. “What you replace it with is very highly regulated.”
He would like to see more areas in the city face similar regulations.
“Something needs to be done. It’s too much, and that’s what people tell us,” he said.
Breckenridge added we only have heritage properties now because we properly protected them in the past.
“They’re there because they’ve survived so much, but they’re not surviving now, because — in my opinion — dollar signs.”
According to the group, from 2003 to 2020, the HRM issued just over 2,500 demolition permits, which equals the loss of roughly 17 city blocks.
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