Dartmouth residents hold rally to protect Southdale wetlands from development

Click to play video: 'Wetland activists rally against planned development in Mount Hope'
Wetland activists rally against planned development in Mount Hope
WATCH: A rally was held in Dartmouth Saturday to protest a planned development in the Mount Hope area. The location is one of nine special planning areas identified by the province to build 22,000 new residential units. But some residents say they’re concerned about the impact the development could have on the wetlands. Alicia Draus reports – Apr 9, 2022

A group of Dartmouth residents gathered together just off Mount Hope Avenue in front of a wooded area to hold a rally to protect the Southdale Wetlands. Their concern is that newly announced housing developments could have permanent impacts on the environment.

“Wetlands are great storers of carbon,” said Bill Zebedee, president of the Protect Our Southdale Wetland Society.

“They help clean the air, they help purify water — by adversely affecting it, you’re going to destroy that eco-system.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia designates 9 areas in Halifax for accelerated housing development

The wetlands are in the Southdale-Mount Hope area, which has been designated as one of nine special planning areas in HRM. The province is looking to build over 22,000 new residential units in the nine areas, with about 1,200 new units slated for where the wetlands are found.

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The province says the special planning area designations were created to speed up the development process. Construction in Mount Hope is already planned to start this fall for an 875 unit development that includes 373 affordable units.

“There are deer, there are fox … and other animals back there that are going to be displaced,” said Zebedee.

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On Friday, Housing Minister John Lohr said that all projects, including the Mount Hope development, will still follow all environmental assessment and permitting processes, but the environmental considerations aren’t the only concerns being raised.

Click to play video: 'Halifax councillors disappointed over lack of consultation in province’s housing move'
Halifax councillors disappointed over lack of consultation in province’s housing move

The special planning area designation means the housing minister will assume authority for developmental approvals — taking away all roles from the municipality.

“In doing so, they’re taking away all public participation,” said Sam Austin, Regional Councillor for Dartmouth Central.

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“So the community is being denied any voice in the future of what their community is going to be.”

Austin says in his six years as a councillor, he’s never “picked a fight” with the province, but calls this approach to housing “appalling.” He says the province is making a mistake by removing the municipality from the planning process.

“The province has three planners in municipal affairs. HRM has over 100. We are the centre of our expertise, we do land use planning.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia announces $22 million to help build affordable units in Halifax area

Austin isn’t alone in criticizing the province’s approach. NDP MLA for Dartmouth South, Claudia Chender, says she understands the importance of moving quickly on housing, especially affordable housing, but says the province’s approach the way to do it.

“I do think it’s a very strange usurpation of municipal powers by the provincial government,” said Chender.

“The excuse is that it will save time, but in fact, what it’s been is an excuse to say, from my perspective, that the government’s acting on housing while giving money to developers in quite a secret way.”

As for the Protect Our Southdale Wetland Society, Zedebee says they’re worried the province is moving too fast and isn’t doing enough to consider the overall impacts to the environmental and community as a whole.

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“We need a proper impact assessment done, proper traffic studies done and proper species at risk studies done as well,” said Zedebee.

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