Citizens’ group criticizes development at Robie Street demolition site
As a portable speaker played the sound of Joni Mitchell singing ‘They’ve paved paradise and set up a parking lot’, Haligonians appalled by the recent destruction of historic homes on Robie Street gathered outside the littered site of rubble in front of Camp Hill Cemetery.
Organized by the citizens’ group Development Options Halifax, the rally at the corner of Robie and Bliss streets was organized to raise awareness among residents of the impending changes in the neighborhood and to ask them to take action against ongoing developments that are changing the character of the city. city at the expense of affordable housing, the environment and reducing congestion on its streets.
DOH member Larry Haiven asked the roughly two dozen attendees to contact their Halifax councilors and MPPs to express their concerns about the changing face of Halifax, as options for public consultation regarding changes to the landscape urban areas continue to shrink.
He is particularly concerned about legislation tabled this week by provincial Housing Minister John Lohr that would amend the Halifax Regional Municipality’s charter to streamline the residential development approval process by bypassing community boards or advisory committees, including the Heritage Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations on heritage buildings and streetscapes.
In the case of the Robie Street block, the now vacant land is owned by Halifax developer George Tsimiklis, whose company also bought and demolished a pair of historic estates on Young Avenue in 2016, much to the chagrin of residents. residents of the majestic southern district. piece. At the north end of the Robie Block, at the corner of Binney Street, another building now owned by Tsimiklis is surrounded by construction fencing and also appears to be a victim of a backhoe in the near future.
Haiven did not initially think there would be much desire to demolish the century-old houses, with the 11 meter height restriction currently in place, but where there were four houses with backyards it will likely become a solid building with many more tenants.
“The Plan Center allows developers to go up, almost to the property line, so they densify it,” he said. “We didn’t know there would be such an incentive there – rather than renovating and keeping these beautiful homes that were here – to just get rid of them and build something new.”
DOH members recognize the need for more housing in Halifax, preferably in a range that people currently living on the peninsula can afford, and DOH organizer Peggy Cameron tells the crowd that the city should have take steps to ensure that developments that fit this model have been built on currently unused land, such as the former site of St. Pat’s Secondary School on Quinpool Road or Bloomfield School property in the north from Halifax.
As for what Haiven expects to see the houses on Robie Street replaced, he doesn’t have high hopes for what will be built there, predicting the kind of faceless, budget-conscious buildings that fill the available spaces in across North America.
“More steel and glass, uglier and unimaginative — I wouldn’t even call it modernist — development. If it were designated it doesn’t even have to be a heritage conservation district, it could be a streetscape to keep it as it was,” he said.
“Then the developer is incentivized not to tear everything down. The Schmidtville developer at 1320 Queen St. received permission to build out the back and decided to keep the original flavor of the place, and that’s what we should have here. A big old street with a boulevard in the middle and beautiful old houses… and everything will disappear.
The Robie and Bliss corner is familiar ground for the DOH, a stone’s throw from the corner of Robie and Spring Garden, the site of a development it has opposed in the past where Cameron says it has two 30-story towers , plus two others of similar scale on the same block, will have more height, scale and mass than the downtown Nova Centre.
In addition to removing approximately 110 affordable housing and commercial units from the neighborhood, the Spring Garden/Robie projects will generate 31,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, which she compared roughly to the amount that would have been saved. in one year thanks to the province-wide elimination of disposable plastic bags.
One rally attendee, Linda Scherzinger, a neighborhood resident for 14 years, was appalled when she saw the destruction of homes and does not look forward to more construction and traffic jams that will forever change the neighborhood than she called home. since moving to Halifax from Cape Breton.
“It was amazing, a big machine literally biting and devouring building after building, and I don’t know what kind of structures are going to be here, but it will be a different kind of addition. Besides the loss to the neighborhood, I think it will be less appealing,” she sighed.
“I know they think it’s a main thoroughfare and therefore deserves bigger buildings, but I think they’re making assumptions about what’s appealing to people coming to town. It’s a shame, because we want people to feel good coming to town.