Originally published in the Chronicle Herald on April 2, 2022
Let’s just call a spade a spade.
What’s happened here is the big metro developers made a spectacular end-run around HRM municipal government, effectively rendering HRM council and the various municipal planning strategies in place or in development, irrelevant. Taking advantage of the serious issue of a lack of affordable housing in the city, the big developers convinced a shiny new provincial government that the solution was to do them a huge favour and simply override HRM’s municipal planning authority and processes and just approve all their projects. Easy peasy, problem solved. At the urging of the big developers, the provincial government has taken planning and decision making authority out of the hands of our duly-elected and accountable municipal representatives and placed it into the hands of a small group of insiders which is neither. It was, by any measure, an audacious power grab by the big developers, aided and abetted by an overeager new provincial government who have now become the defacto planning authority for HRM.
But building more expensive McMansions and McCondos in far-flung, car-dependent suburbs is not going to provide affordable housing for those who need it. Some of the so-called “special planning areas” (special, apparently, because they happened to be owned by the developers) were already in the queue for development, had no problems and faced no public opposition. They were going to happen anyway. But a few of them – the biggest suburban chunks targeted for sprawl developments, which would consume huge tracts of nature (called “greenfield” development), are more problematic and require more study and consideration within the municipal planning framework. Areas like Sandy Lake, Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes and the Eisner’s Cove Wetland are squarely in the crosshairs. Although they will probably go through the pretense of environmental review and maybe some public input window dressing, the outcome has already been determined. The fix is in and everybody knows it.
For citizens who’ve participated in open and transparent municipal planning processes in the belief they were helping to define the shape and character of their city, the message is clear: Developers will decide the shape of this city, so you might as well just stay home and shut up. The message to HRM councillors is even more blunt: Give us what we want, when we want it or we will go over your heads and get it anyway.
Councillors: You have been dismissed.
Raymond Plourde is senior wilderness co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.