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Doctors raise concerns over province’s plan to fast-track housing in Halifax

Click to play video: 'Concerns raised over environmental impact in HRM housing fast-track plan'
Concerns raised over environmental impact in HRM housing fast-track plan
Concerns are being raised in the Halifax area over the plan to fast-track the development of more than 22,000 residential units. Advocates are weighing in on how to strike the right balance between meeting HRM's housing demands and protecting the environment. Skye Bryden-Blom reports. – Mar 28, 2023

Concerns are being raised in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) over the plan to fast-track the development of more than 22,000 residential units.

Advocates in Nova Scotia are weighing in on how to strike the right balance between meeting HRM’s housing demands and protecting the environment.

The Nova Scotia Regional Committee of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment have penned a letter to the province citing their concerns around a proposed development around Sandy Lake in Bedford.

It’s one of nine special planning areas in the municipality. The plan will see 6,000 residential units built near Sandy Lake.

Chair Dr. Laurette Geldenhuys says there are many health benefits to preserving wilderness.

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“So blood pressure is one,” she explains. “Respiratory illness is improved by getting outside. Response to chemotherapy is also improved.”

Geldenhuys adds that due to the location, more people would need to rely on cars to travel into the city for work, school and shopping, which would take a toll on the environment.

“The more transportation there is the more pollution there is, which is bad for people’s respiratory and cardiovascular health and it adds to cancer,” she says.

Local MLA Braedon Clark, who is also the Liberal Housing Critic, says although the population is rapidly growing the environment also needs to be considered.

“There’s a lot of things we can do here,” Clark says. “For example, between Sandy Lake and Blue Mountain, which is kind of on the other side of Hammond Plains Road and the highway there, there’s a significant wildlife corridor that allows animals to move between the two areas, protecting that corridor for example would be a great option.”

The Ecology Action Centre is also concerned about the development of green spaces that fall under the special planning areas including Eisner Cove.

Last year it was the site of protests aiming to preserve the wetland.

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“The message that we’re getting from the task force so far — which is advancing these areas — is housing at all costs,” says Wilderness Outreach Coordinator Karen McKendry. “They’re not really considering environmental factors there to the detriment of future communities.”

Ecology Action Centre Wilderness Outreach Coordinator Karen McKendry. Skye Bryden-Blom / Global News

She says a better model under the strategy is the plan to build housing units on the land where Penhorn Mall once stood in Dartmouth.

“It won’t destroy any nature to make it and that area already has amenities around it,” says McKendry. “It has transit. It has parks and it has services.”

In a statement, the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing says the province is working to create a future where Nova Scotians, the economy and nature can thrive.

“At the same time, Nova Scotia is in the midst of a housing crisis. Working together, we can ensure sustainable development that will provide Nova Scotians with the homes they need and protect our environment,” the statement says.

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“All developers must comply with municipal requirements and Nova Scotia’s laws and regulations, including environmental regulations — no one gets a pass.”

The province says it granted $2.3 million to HRM in 2020 to complete studies in four areas that are targeted for housing developments, including Sandy Lake.

Both groups say it’s good to put more housing on the map amid Nova Scotia’s housing crunch, but they want the province to ensure it’s also building healthy communities.

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