April 29, 2014 9:40 pm

Debate flies over closing downtown Halifax street for Nova Centre project

Dozens of people packed City Hall Tuesday night to offer their insights and perspectives on the changes.

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – Tensions were high and emotions were heated at a public hearing on proposed amendments to the Nova Centre in downtown Halifax.

Dozens of people packed City Hall Tuesday night to offer their insights and perspectives on the changes.

Among the amendments, Argyle Developments Limited is asking council to allow the widening of the towers. In one case, it wants to lengthen one side by 22 metres than the original design.

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It also wants to close down Grafton Street to vehicle traffic between Prince and Sackville – an idea that solicited mixed reviews from residents.

“I think it’s really important we speak in favour of the retention of the historic block pattern in Halifax, against the privatization of the block, which would effectively create a super project over two blocks,” said Linda Forbes, president of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.

“I don’t think that adds to the pedestrian environment. The changes with privatizing the street don’t confer an additional benefit.”

“I’m looking at it on a day to day basis. Does it attract people there? Will people want to walk through and walk past? How much does it help the local economy and the local cultural activity there? Is it an addition to that or is the original proposal better?”

Joe McGuinness, who owns The Stubborn Goat and Durty Nelly’s on Argyle Street, is for the amendment, though he admits there needs to be some oversight.

“There certainly needs to be some process, some governance of how it’s going to be used,” he said.

But ultimately McGuinness thinks the proposed amendments are a good thing.

“I believe [they are] reasonable and positive. As with any project, there are going to be changes. As a result, we support council going ahead and making those amendments,” he said.

The Downtown Halifax Business Commission is in favour of the amendments but is cautioning council about the closure of Grafton Street.

“We wanted to make sure it didn’t set a precedent for other developers to close down other streets and create superblocks,” said Ivy Ho.

“For developers to take ownership of streets, public streets, we’re not in favour of that in downtown Halifax at all but this is a unique situation with the convention centre.”

Other residents were not as positive about the convention, with some focusing on how the project should not be going ahead at all.

“We need housing for the elderly, housing for the poor. We need better schooling for kindergarten to grade 12. We need more money put into the university system,” said Judy Haiven with savetheview.ca as she listed ways she said the money invested into the centre could be better used.

Mayor Mike Savage said he anticipated the lively debate during the public hearing.

“I expected [residents] to be at least as lively, probably more so. There’s a lot of discussion about this. It’s a good thing,” he said.

“This is the future of Halifax.”

Savage said council will now discuss the matter before deciding on the proposed amendments.

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