Nova Scotia Tories ignore objections to bill intended to fast-track Halifax housing

By Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

Pleas by Halifax city officials on Monday failed to put the brakes on provincial legislation they say overrides their responsibility to determine urban planning and will transfer development costs on municipal taxpayers.

Mayor Mike Savage told the Nova Scotia legislature’s law amendments committee that the bill to fast-track housing development in his city is “unnecessary and harmful.” The bill, he said, is built on the false premise that there are unacceptable delays in advancing projects in the Halifax area.

“It is an autocratic intrusion into municipal affairs,” the mayor told the committee. “By and large this legislation is an egregious overreach and is not a solution to the housing crisis.”

The Progressive Conservative bill would require Halifax to work with the province to grant pre-qualified developers expedited approvals for residential units and would impose a two-year freeze on the fees the city levies on builders.

But Savage said it’s not needed, adding that 11,000 housing units have received full approval as a result of municipal planning, low development fees and quick processing.

“But a big percentage of those are not being built because what we have is an issue of math, not legislation,” he said.

Construction has been hindered during a time of increased population growth by soaring costs, high interest rates, a shortage of skilled labour and supply chain issues, Savage said.

Cathie O’Toole, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the limit on new fees would constrain Halifax’s ability to pay for growth.

As an example, she said, the Port Wallace district of Dartmouth, which has been identified as a potential growth area, could see capital costs for basic infrastructure such as water, sewer and transportation that exceed $30 million. Without the ability to recover costs through adjusting fees for private developers, O’Toole said, infrastructure will either not get built, or taxpayers will pay more.

“Unfettered growth without plans to develop and fund the necessary supporting infrastructure or deliver municipal services will create significant public risk,” she said.

Halifax officials also said they believe the legislation would allow developers to go directly to the housing minister for approval of projects.

Kourtney Dunsby, sustainable cities co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, said the bill’s “consolidation of power” with the provincial housing minister is not “good policy or good planning.”

“Frankly this consolidation of power is bullying and it has the potential for lasting consequences,” Dunsby said.

Following Monday’s presentations, Liberal and NDP members tried to get the bill referred back to departmental staff for further consideration, but the Progressive Conservative majority on the committee voted to return it to the legislature without amendments.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2023.

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