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COUNCIL RECAP: Future of Halifax Forum, Gottingen bus lane and Halifax Green Network

Council narrowed down choices for the Halifax Forum's future and approved both the Gottingen Street bus lane and Halifax Green Network
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The Halifax Forum (Meghan Groff/HalifaxToday.ca)

HALIFAX – The decades long discussion about what to do with the aging and crumbling Halifax Forum took a step forward at Regional Council Tuesday, though, it did take a while to get there.

Council voted 15-1 to have staff move forward with preliminary plans for a proposed two-ice pad complex at the 92-year-old arena along with a multi-purpose room and other possible community spaces as needed.

It’s not decided, however, whether the work would be a renovation or a full re-build, but a cost-benefit analysis for replacing or renovating The Forum or The Civic Centre will also be included.

Staff will return to Council with its findings for a final decision, which will also include cost estimates for next year’s budget on the immediate maintenance work needed at the site.

A number of options came before Council Tuesday from completely demolishing the arena, to adding a third ice pad and demolishing the multi-purpose room at a cost of upwards of $60 million and a number of others in between. 

This prompted over three hours of debate and questions for municipal staff on wide array of issues like the building’s current structural and safety concerns, its heritage status and how that affects any work, the current cost of the land and even if it could be re-purposed for a new police headquarters.

Downtown Councillor Waye Mason urged his colleagues to adopt a motion from north-end Councillor Lindell Smith that combined a number of what were considered more realistic options with an eye toward getting work started at the site, as it remains in deteriorating condition.

“My core concern here is the residents are waiting,” Mason said.

“We could be years of just plugging a million bucks or a couple hundred thousand bucks into The Forum to keep it going while we have the discussion we’ve had, based on the documents I’ve read, since amalgamation.”

Councillor Smith, who represents the area, does not support a full replacement for the facility but thought its potential cost should be included in all of the information being returned to Council.

He said his motion allowed staff “to move forward now” and commented the arena, its board and the community had all been “waiting too long.”

“Let’s move forward with something we can actually grasp and see in the near future, hopefully before I leave the council table.”

Councillor Richard Zurawski was the dissenting voice to all options of keeping the building, calling it an "eyesore" and for it to demolished "with a stick of dynamite."

The latest proposed plan would also maintain an ice plant on site to allow for expansion to a third rink if needed and justified in the future.

Gottingen Street Transit Corridor passes

Work will begin this fall to bring a dedicated bus lane to Gottingen Street after Council voted Tuesday to approve the final plan, one that will be re-assessed after the first year of its implementation.

The street will be re-configured to three lanes, one each for outbound and inbound traffic and a third for busses to run inbound weekdays between 7 and 9 a.m. and outbound between 3 and 6 p.m.

Parking and loading will be prohibited during those peak times, a concern consistently raised by local businesses and acknowledged by one of the Councillors for the area in tabling the final plan.

Councillor Lindell Smith believed changes at the committee level adequately addressed concerns raised by the North End Business Association and said work continued to mitigate future potential problems.

“I’ve got many e-mails from people who are against but I’ve got many e-mails from people who are for this,” Smith said.

“I feel at this point we’ve done a lot and got to a place where I’m happy what we see.”

Overall, eight parking spaces on the east side of Gottingen will be lost during peak times as staff continues work on a parking mitigation plan.

Staff is also examining whether some of the transit traffic could be re-routed to Barrington Street, though the issue remains whether busses can physically make a right-hand turn onto the Macdonald Bridge. A consultant is currently studying the issue.

The decision to add the dedicated transit lane will be revisited in one year based on feedback and data collected by the municipality.

Halifax Green Network gets final approval

Councillors gave the Halifax Green Network its final approval Tuesday and was being called one of the first of its kind in Canada.

The network plan was approved by a vote of 16-0 and means HRM’s Regional Plan will be amended with an eye toward maintaining green spaces and limiting the expansion of municipal service boundaries for things like water and sewer. 

It also looks to keep the current network of green spaces within HRM interconnected or ‘without disruption,’ from development or other factors.

Deputy Mayor Waye Mason called the final plan, “first in class,” and thanked all present who had worked on it, the same group present that reacted to the  approval vote with cheering and applause.

He added the document was of national significance and "shows the rest of the country how to do this.”

Quick hits:

1) Regional Council was informed Tuesday morning that Hammonds Plains Councillor Matt Whitman had broken his clavicle and one of his legs in a motorbike accident Monday night, injuries that required surgery but that he was expected to recover from.

Whitman’s agenda items were deferred in his absence, which included a public discussion and update on how racism within the municipal ranks uncovered by a consultant’s report was being addressed.

That discussion will now happen at the next meeting of Regional Council scheduled for Sept. 11.  

2) Council approved for staff to study options for maintaining transit service in north Beaver Bank after a request from Beaver Bank Councillor Lisa Blackburn Tuesday.

Blackburn said changes coming to Halifax Transit routes in the ‘Moving Forward Together’ for 2020-2021 will means service is removed from Beaver Bank Road north of Kinsac Road.

She said during Tuesday’s meeting this would potentially cut off the major employer in Beaver Bank, the Ivy Meadows Assisted Living Facility, something brought to her attention by a number of residents.

Council approved the request 16-0 and staff will now look at options to maintain transit service from Beaver Bank Kinsac Community Centre to Ivy Meadows Assisted Living Facility during peak times.

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