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What is the Downtown Dartmouth Plan Update project about?

The Downtown Dartmouth Municipal Planning Strategy (the Plan), adopted in 2000, envisioned a bustling downtown core by adding new residents and businesses while maintaining a walkable, small town feel, good design and public access to the waterfront. In spite of many positive changes, limited growth has been realized in downtown Dartmouth over the past 14 years. The current policies do not utilize some of the new planning tools that can encourage good urban design.

The current Plan contains community design goals, but lacks clarity for permitted heights and does not adequately implement architectural design requirements such as setback of buildings from streets or from adjacent properties. The intent of the Downtown Dartmouth Plan Update is to help realize the vision of a lively downtown by strengthening existing planning tools and policies.

Why is this process taking place right now?

In 2011, Regional Council initiated a process to amend the Downtown Dartmouth Plan and Land Use By-law to address:


1. Changes in the View Planes from the Dartmouth Common and Brightwood Golf Course, and 


 2. Building height, form and design in the Business and Waterfront Districts of Downtown Dartmouth


The view plane work is complete, and the focus of the current process is on proposed new land use and heritage policies, design guidelines and a development approval process to regulate building, height, form and design. The intent behind the changes is to advance the vision of the Regional Plan and the vision of the Plan. We want to ensure that new developments complement and enhance local streets and neighbourhoods, protect valuable public views and provide access to the waterfront. This process is not specific to any development proposal.

Why is the public invited to comment on the proposals?

Public input is highly valued in any planning process. The first phase of community consultation (held in January of 2014) helped staff select a preferred approach to regulating building heights designs. The focus of the second phase of public consultation is on presenting and asking public feedback on the recommended option for height and building form precincts. Participants will also have the opportunity to comment on conceptual land use policies, design guidelines and a new proposed development approval process. The key questions for this round of public consultations are:

"Will the proposed changes help us realize the vision for Downtown Dartmouth?", and "What public amenities does Downtown Dartmouth need?".

How does this process fit in with the Regional Plan and the Centre Plan?

Downtown Dartmouth is part of Halifax’s Regional Centre, the symbolic, cultural and economic heart of the region. The Regional Plan targets at least 25% of all future growth to the Regional Centre. This growth will be shaped using the principles of sustainability, high quality, protection and enhancement of heritage, culture, transportation choices and complete neighbourhoods. The Centre Plan, when adopted, will provide a holistic guidance for policies, programs and regulations to address future growth and development in Halifax Peninsula and Dartmouth within the arc of the Circumferential Highway.

Who will make the final decision?

Planning staff will prepare policies and regulations for the consideration of the Heritage Advisory Committee, Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council and Regional Council. Regional Council will make a decision to hold a public hearing on the process as part of the official approval process.

What is the overall process for this project?

  • Regional Council direction to initiate this process in 2011
  • A public information meeting on heights and built form options was held on January 20, 2014.
  • 3D Modelling and Shadow Analysis were undertaken in November 2014
  • Work on draft policies began in November 2014
  • Public Presentation and Open House will be held on Dec. 1, 2014
  • Written comments will be accepted until January 9, 2015 
  • Staff report will be prepared for Council’s consideration in the winter of 2015

How is development currently being regulated?

Within the Business District, low-rise buildings of up to 5-storeys are permitted as-of-right. Within the Waterfront District, the limit is 3-storeys. Taller buildings are required to go through a development agreement process, which includes public consultation, a public hearing and a decision by Council. There is currently no clear guidance on maximum desirable heights, and no guidance as to where taller buildings are appropriate with the exception of a few opportunity sites. 

How will this process advance the daylighting of Sawmill Creek?

This downtown plan update process is not related to the open space and heritage interpretation design process being undertaken for the Canal Greenway between Sullivan’s Pond and Halifax Harbour, so therefore does not address the
possibility of restoring a surface stream. That issue will be addressed by Halifax Water and council through the current design exercise underway for the Canal Greenway.

Will streetscape improvements will considered, such as sidewalks on the north side of Alderney Dr?

Streetscape improvements are not being considered as part of the proposed Plan Amendments. The Centre Plan project will delve into the larger policy questions around Streetscapes in the Regional Centre, as well as specific pedestrian network improvements. You can find more information on that project here

How do developers increasing density of residential/ office area contribute to increases stress on fire, hospital and police systems?

Planning, Fire, and Police work together to understand the long range impacts of policy decision to ensure that service matches the expected population. Increased residential and office area density has been empirically linked to better (and lower cost) service for fire and police response, but there is an equilibrium point at whihc the stresses on municipal systems become too great.  The hospital system services are regional and therefore largely unaffected by residential and office densities in specific sub-areas.

What requirements will site design standards include (i.e. open space, trees, fences, ooverhead wires, viewscapes)?

The Land Use Bylaw will contain revised requirements related to landscaping and amenity space and may address the need for visual buffers such as fences. View corridors, looking along many streets toward the harbour, are already protected
from encroachment by development and will remain so. Undergrounding of overhead utility wires is a matter that Regional Council must first consider as part of an overall streetscape improvement plan.

For each development scenario what would be the maximum height for any building erected on the old city hall site?

As was done for the rest of the study area, three height scenarios were modelled for the old city hall site.

These heights were 22 m (7 floors), 33.5 m (10 floors) and 43 m (14 floors), and were based on the premise that the taller a building is, the smaller the floorplates are.

An appropriate height for the site will be determined based on the massing and shadow study and on other considerations such as the proximity of the ferry terminal park.

What are the exact boundaries of zoned parkland for the development area? Is there an appropriate map showing the areas now zoned as parkland?

There are many HRM-owned park parcels within the downtown Dartmouth planning area, where the PK (Park) Zone has been applied. These can be seen using HRM’s online Geographic Information System which can be
accessed here.

What building heights are being proposed?

Based on the vision and principles of the Downtown Dartmouth Plan, and public input received in January 2014, staff commissioned a shadow analysis for a number of different building heights and built form scenarios in the study area. The approach is based on five character precincts and a range of building heights that can complement and enhance existing streets and neighbourhoods. The precincts are based on the current Plan, but slight boundary changes may be required.

See the Library for more information on Shadow Analysis and 3 build-our scenarions.

What are precincts?

Precincts are administrative boundaries or areas which are defined in planning documents to help focus and direct land uses, define appropriate character for development, protect heritage, and guide public investment.

As part of the current planning process, detailed design policies are proposed for five of the nine precincts.

See the Library for more information on the 9 proposed precincts.


How were the proposed precincts determined? Will they change?

The draft character precincts were defined based on policy direction in the existing planning documents, on past public input, and on an assessment of the community by staff. Changes will be made to reflect community input.

What design guidelines will be introduced?

The design guidelines will address building form, architectural design, landscape design, general urban design, and heritage design. They will be based on public input,

shadow analysis and character studies of downtown Dartmouth streetscapes. The guidelines will also be derived from lessons learned in Downtown Halifax, and they will be formalized in the Downtown Dartmouth Design Manual. Under the current legislative framework, the design guidelines can only be implemented using a new development approval process referred to as the site plan approval process.

See the Library for more information on design guidelines.

What is a site plan approval process?

Site plan approval is a development approval process enabled under the

Halifax Regional Municipality Charter. It is proposed that that process replace the use of development agreements in Downtown Dartmouth Business and Waterfront Districts. This process can help to improve clarity, predictability and timeliness in the development approval process. Under site plan approval, the approval of any development application will occur in two parts:

(1) By-Law Review (measurable elements) based on prescriptive criteria;

(2) Design Review (aesthetic elements).

The design review for the development of new buildings and most building additions is still to be determined but may include a Council-appointed Design Review Committee comprised of a team of professionals.

See the Library for more information 

Are there other planning processes taking place in Downtown Dartmouth?

Several significant public and private redevelopment projects in the Dartmouth Cove area are planned including:


A. Portland Street/Alderney Drive/Prince Albert Road Intersection Improvements

B. Sullivan’s Pond Storm Sewer Renewal

C. Shubenacadie Canal Greenway

D. Dartmouth Cove Comprehensive Master Plan

E. Area Developments: Several significant multi-unit residential developments that have been approved, or are proposed to be considered, by the Municipality in the area. They include: Irishtown Road ; King’s Wharf ; WDC-1 Site (Alderney Dr./King St./Prince St.); Harbourvista (Portland St./Maitland St.)

It is expected that some of the current multi-unit development proposals may be some of the first developments to be reviewed under the new policy framework, if approved by Council.

If heights are not amended, will the design guidelines still be introduced?

Design and built form measures are needed for all buildings, regardless of height and are needed to improve the quality of new developments.

How will the new policies address housing for families?

It is expected that the Downtown Plan’s requirement of diversity of housing units in new developments such as townhouses or 3-bedroom units will be carried forward under the revised policies.

Will density bonus policies be used?

The proposed heights are the maximum allowable heights. The Halifax Regional Municipality Charter requires that density bonusing in the Regional Centre (outside of Downtown Halifax) include affordable housing for modest to low-income households. The Municipality currently does not have a mechanism in place to enforce affordability provisions in private developments. Therefore, density bonusing may not be used at this time.