Council votes to reject Skye towers

Council can’t just “sway in the wind” on regional plan, says Mosher

The proposed Skye building. Photo: Skye Halifax
The proposed Skye building. Photo: Skye Halifax

Halifax city council voted against sending the Skye Halifax project to public hearing on Tuesday.

The 48-storey Skye project — proposed by developer United Gulf Development — was to be built on the old parking lot on Sackville Street between Granville and Hollis Streets. Skye would have included 600 residential units in its 172-metre-high towers. The units could have offered affordable housing to young buyers interested in living in the downtown core.

Councillor Linda Mosher said it was a difficult decision. She recognized the need to revitalize downtown, and referred to one constituent in her riding who was forced to move to Toronto because they had a $350,000 budget for a condo and “couldn’t find one in downtown Halifax.” Mosher said she likes the “height and densification of downtown” but HRM by Design was “compromised too much.” She said city council needs to have confidence to follow its policies and “can’t just sway with the wind.”

Councillor Brad Johns recognized the demand for affordable housing downtown, but said it’s not a justifiable reason to move forward with the project. Johns said council should address the pressing issue of affordable housing and that it should not be used as criteria for supporting Skye project.

Councillor Lorelei Nicoll said she’s “not convinced (Skye) is where our youth will find it affordable to live.”

“We’re putting all our eggs in one basket by having development all happen in that one building,” said Nicoll. She would like to see development dispersed evenly downtown and not all in one place.

Richard Harvey, the acting urban design project manager for the HRM, voiced concerns from the design review committee about the effect the project would have on the streetscape environment and the loss of sky-view. Harvey recommended city council not move to a public hearing.

Dartmouth councillor Gloria McCluskey voted to push the project to a public hearing and stressed the importance of “hearing from the residents first hand.” McCluskey questioned why council is afraid to hear from the public. While she may not agree with the project, she said it’s not up to her to decide, it’s up to the people.

Downtown councillor Waye Mason urged council to vote yes to halting the development. He said there is a need for clear and consistent rules for downtown development and the decision is about trust.

“We agreed as a community and a municipality to develop the vision of what downtown should look like,” he said, but “the watchdog that protects the plan’s integrity is our design review committee, and the design review committee has recommended that we reject this proposal.”

Mason said council has a specific goal in spreading development around downtown, but “focusing this much development on one small site will not help replace all the missing teeth in our downtown.”

Councillor Jennifer Watts agreed with Mason and said the development was not in the best interest of downtown Halifax.

“We know change needs to happen,” said Watts, who looked closely at economic arguments against the project going forward. She said as councillors it is their “fundamental role to discern and uphold the integrity of the plan.”

Councillor David Hendsbee wanted to move forward with the public hearing and believes the proposal has “a considerable amount of merit.”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing a couple of twin towers in the city,” he said.

Mayor Mike Savage joined the debate saying the decision was not about the height of the project, urban density or vibrancy in the downtown core, but about whether or not council is committed to following a plan.

Savage voted in favour of stopping the development from proceeding and said it “could damage the bond of trust that this new council must have with the citizens we serve.”

United Gulf Development had predicted occupants would spend $14-16 million annually downtown and contribute $6 million annually in municipal tax revenue.”

Looking to the future, Watts said planning staff need to focus on an urgent plan of action for developing downtown Halifax — one that is desperately needed in the urban core.