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HRM Council approves changes for two proposed downtown apartment towers

Councillor Patty Cuttell was the only councillor to vote against the proposal and worried about the development’s impact on civilians

On Jan. 22, the Halifax city council approved amendments to Dexel Development’s proposal to build two apartment buildings over 30 stories tall at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Robie Street.

The amendments include a reduction in the minimum distance required between towers, from 23 metres to 19 metres, and the addition of a one-storey penthouse that exceeds the maximum allowed height of 90 metres. Reducing the distance between towers allows developers to build units with more square-footage. 

District 7 Councillor Waye Mason told the Dalhousie Gazette in an interview on Feb. 1, that he is in favour of the amendments. 

“The amendments in front of council were a modest change to towers that had already been approved in 2019,” he said. “The question was, is the design they put in front of council a better design and I thought it was.”

The only councillor to vote against the amendments was Patty Cuttell of District 11. District 11 encompasses Spryfield, Sambro Loop and Prospect Road. 

“I think there’s a bit of a myth that’s being spouted that tall towers are the answer to our climate crisis and housing crisis,” she told the Dalhousie Gazette in a phone interview on Feb. 1. “And in my opinion, and not just mine, but in a lot of the literature, they’re really not the silver bullet to either of those crises.” 

Cuttell took issue with how the height of the buildings would impact the experience of Halifax locals. 

“This kind of development doesn’t do anything to enhance the public realm. Even if we put trees down on the street, they’d be in the shade all the time,” she said. “We need trees in the city because they clean the air, absorb groundwater and are important to the beauty of our public space. None of that is going to thrive in the shadow of such a big building.”

Cuttell said she’s also concerned that there is no requirement for the buildings to be designed to mitigate wind.

“The planner admitted that there will be negative impacts with the wind,” she said. “When wind hits a tall building, the taller the building, the greater the force of the downward draft as the wind swirls around it.”

All other councillors voted in favour of the development, citing the need for high-density housing in Halifax as a solution to the city’s ongoing housing crisis.

Dexel Developments told the Dalhousie Gazette they were “unable to accommodate an interview,” but CEO Louis Lawen provided a statement, included below in its entirety. 

“We are pleased with the approval by HRM and look forward to starting this project within the parameters of the Development Agreement with HRM.”

Dexel Development’s twin-tower project is not the only one green-lit for the corner of Spring Garden and Robie. Council previously approved two residential buildings up to 31 stories tall from developers Rouvalis and Argyris, to be built right behind Dexel’s project.

Cuttell is skeptical about how four new towers will affect the block. 

“The developers are collaborating on some parts, but when it comes to approving the height, the distance between the towers and performing wind and shadow studies, those have been done separately, which I think was short sighted,” Cuttell said. “On such a tight block like that with four towers, it really should have been considered as a whole.”

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