Why do we need an HCD in the Old South Suburb?

    The main reason for establishing an HCD in the Old South Suburb is due to the historic and traditional architectural significance of the area. Also, the area has witnessed the loss of many historic buildings which has resulted in several large empty spaces. Although these empty spaces detract from the character of the area, there still remains a high concentration of historic buildings.

    Due to the area’s location in Downtown Halifax and the vacant opportunity sites, the area continues to experience pressure for new development. Existing policy and regulations, pertaining to this area, are insufficient in protecting and conserving the historic significance and traditional character of the area. An HCD plan for the area can introduce conservation measures to supplement and amend existing legislation.

    What is the historic significance of the Old South Suburb?

    The Old South Suburb is associated with the early settlement of Nova Scotia because it is one of the first contiguous suburbs of the once fortified town of Halifax. This suburb extended the town to the south between Pleasant Street (now part of Barrington Street) and the harbour where early settlers constructed Georgian style stone and wood-framed dwellings.

    Most of the built heritage of the Old South Suburb dates from the Georgian era to the mid-Victorian era. The area is significant for its overall cohesive architectural character as styles evolved gradually, rather than dramatically, from Georgian to Victorian styles in the mid-Victorian years of the 1860s and 1870s.

    The area is associated with the early social and economic life of the waterfront and was home to many dockyard labourers and a high percentage of Irish residents, especially between 1860 and 1890. The general area was known locally as Irishtown. The Cornwallis Park area is also associated with Halifax’s once prominent role as the great eastern terminus of transcontinental rail passenger service in Canada, c. 1930, and for its civic heritage as a monumental railway destination.

    What kinds of conservation measures can be introduced to the area under an HCD plan and bylaw?

    An HCD is a defined area of historic or architectural importance that can be protected by policies and regulations governing such things as:

    · demolition and exterior alteration of historic buildings
    · architectural guidelines for new development
    · financial incentive programs
    · investments in public amenities

    A conservation plan and bylaw may be adopted alongside other development control mechanisms, such as municipal planning strategy and land use bylaw amendments, including the existing building heights framework.

    What are the proposed boundaries of the HCD?

    The proposed boundaries of the Old South Suburb HCD are identified here. The boundaries encompass properties that contribute to the historic and architectural significance of the area. The boundaries also encompass properties in locations where new construction can have a visual impact on the character of the Old South Suburb.

    Who decides on the boundaries and conservation measures of the HCD?

    Regional Council will ultimately make the decision to adopt an HCD plan and bylaw, including the boundaries and conservation measures. The approved plan and bylaw must then be reviewed by the Provincial Minister responsible for the Heritage Property Act. Regional Council has appointed its Municipal Staff to administer the process to develop the HCD. It has also appointed the Heritage Advisory Committee and the Design Review Committee to review the heritage and design aspects of the project, respectively. 

    Regional Council has also established a Stakeholder Steering Committee through its Public Participation Program to work with Municipal Staff in the development of the HCD plan and bylaw. The role of this committee is to represent broader stakeholder interests within the proposed HCD with regard to the planning process including issue and opportunity identification, review of draft policy and regulations, public participation, and discussion of other program elements as required.

    Who will be on the Stakeholder Steering Committee?

    The municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (HAC) will appoint seven (7) members to the Stakeholder Steering Committee:

    a) Two (2) members of Heritage Advisory Committee
    b) One (1) member of Nova Scotia Heritage Trust
    c) Two (2) property owners within the proposed district
    d) Two (2) business owners and/or tenants within the proposed district that do not own the property

    Additional members may be appointed at the discretion of HAC in order to effectively represent stakeholder interests.

    What if I don’t want my property included in the HCD?

    Regional Council may consider including only those properties whose owners wish to be included and excluding the properties of possible objectors. While this may be expedient in the short term, it is not advisable because it weakens the integrity and cohesiveness of the District.

    Objectors to HCD designation can voice their concerns and present objecting arguments on the proposed conservation measures throughout the community engagement process and directly to Regional Council at the public hearing. A municipality should then balance these objecting arguments against supporting arguments and designate (or refuse to designate) an HCD in its entirety based on the best interests of the community as a whole.

    Will property owners be able to demolish their historic buildings within the HCD?

    The HCD plan must include a process to consider demolition, as well as substantial exterior alteration, of all properties, including historic buildings. This process may include provisions such as a public hearing or Regional Council approval before a historic building can be demolished or altered. The so-called “three-year delay clause” does not apply within an HCD. As such, if permission for demolition or substantial alteration of a historic building is refused within an HCD, the property owner may not carry out the demolition or substantial alteration after three years unless there is a provision in the HCD plan or bylaw to allow it.

    Will the HCD greatly reduce allowable building heights?

    As a conservation measure, the municipality will explore the potential of changing building heights currently allowed in specific areas of the HCD, where historic buildings are located, to match the existing height of the historic buildings so that there is no incentive to demolish for the purpose of constructing new taller buildings.

    In other areas of the HCD, where there are no historic buildings, it may be appropriate to maintain the existing building heights but change the streetwall height to reflect the scale of the existing 2.5 storey traditional buildings in the HCD. This will help to ensure that new construction is visually consistent with the traditional architecture. 

    Will there be financial incentives for property owners to maintain their older buildings?

    The municipality will explore the use of financial incentives and other measures to encourage the conservation of historic buildings within the HCD including their preservation, rehabilitation and restoration.

    Will new modern development be allowed in the HCD?

    The vacant lots and empty spaces within the HCD currently detract from the character and cohesiveness of the District. These areas present opportunities for new integrated development that can help “fill in the gaps” of the District. This will help establish the area as an historic destination if the new construction is visually consistent with the traditional architecture.

    The existing heritage design guidelines for downtown Halifax welcome a variety of building styles in new construction, including modern styles. New construction should be differentiated from the old. However, new modern construction should also be compatible with historic materials, features, size, scale, height, proportion and massing to protect the integrity of the traditional environment.

    Will there be architectural guidelines for new construction within the HCD?

    The idea of extending the existing Downtown Halifax design guidelines for new development within a heritage context to all properties within the HCD will be explored. These guidelines currently apply to all properties in Downtown Halifax that are registered as heritage properties, abut a registered heritage property or are within the existing Barrington Street Heritage Conservation District.  

    When will the HCD plan take effect?

    The HCD plan and bylaw are scheduled for adoption in the spring of 2016. However, the plan must then be implemented through program development (i.e. financial incentives and streetscape improvements) and amendments to the Downtown Halifax Secondary Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By Law. This implementation period will take the remainder of 2016.  

    Can property owners apply to demolish historic buildings and construct new buildings while the municipality is preparing the HCD plan and bylaw?

    Yes, in Nova Scotia there is no moratorium on demolition and development during the preparation of an HCD plan and bylaw. However, currently 41 of the 104 properties within the HCD are registered as municipal heritage properties. Regional Council must review any application for demolition or development on these properties.

    What are the benefits of an HCD?

    Aside from the intrinsic benefits of protecting and conserving the heritage values and character of the historic neighbourhood, there are social and economic benefits associated with a HCD. 

    The social benefits of the HCD relate to sustainable development, community confidence and identity, quality of life and opportunities for education. 

    Through the establishment of the HCD, the municipality is acting on past policy direction and will provide clarity to development requirements in the area which is a form of certainty to property developers. An appropriate scale and design of new construction will protect the property values of properties adjacent to the new construction while establishing a greater sense of visual consistency throughout the neighbourhood that will better support the Old South Suburb as a destination for residents and cultural heritage travellers arriving by cruise ship, train, or from elsewhere in the downtown or waterfront.

    Furthermore, the Heritage Property Act allows the council of a municipality to provide financial assistance in respect of municipal heritage property or property located in an HCD to any person to assist in the restoration or renovation of such property upon such terms and conditions as it deems fit.

    How will the HCD affect property insurance rates?

    Insurance on any older home, not only registered heritage properties, could be costlier because of higher replacement costs. The insurance industry indicates that the issuance of homeowners insurance is not based on the age of the building but rather on the condition and upkeep of the building. Items that insurance companies specifically check on older buildings include: the type of plumbing (copper or galvanized); the age of oil storage tanks for heating; the type of electrical system for the size of the building; the type of wiring in use (aluminum or knob and tube); and the age and condition of the roof.

    The insurance industry recommends that homeowners shop around for home insurance because some companies will not insure older homes since they do not have the expertise to properly assess the risks involved. There are no provisions within the Heritage Property Act to require that property owners restore a registered heritage property or a property within a heritage conservation district if it is accidentally destroyed or damaged.