A couple trying to build their dream home in West Jeddore say they’ve been blocked by an arcane Halifax bylaw banning construction on lots of 10 hectares or more.
“Please add my name to the long list of shocked and frustrated lot owners who have been robbed of our dreams to build within the HRM,” read the opening line of Andrew Robbins letter, sent to the city last Friday.
After serving 34 years in the Canadian Air Force, Robbins was in search of the ideal retirement spot.
Andrew and his wife Suzanna researched Nova Scotia properties for two years. They finally came across a parcel of land in West Jeddore on Moser Head Road.
He says the land was originally listed at 14 hectares, over a mile long with a relatively small frontage on the ocean.
The property came with a West Jeddore Covenants document that stipulated one residential home, one garage and one other structure could be built on the property.
He says the land itself had already been cleared and prepared for building by the previous owner.
The Robbins secured the necessary funds and made the purchase last September.
The decision to buy proved timely, too.
In January he retired from the force, and in March his 81-year-old father fell ill and was hospitalized.
Meanwhile, his 78-year-old mother is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and has become dependent on others for care.
“Before the rug was pulled out from underneath, we had just convinced them to sell their house in London, Ont. and move in with us into our new home so we could take care of them,” said Robbins in his letter to the city.
Just as Robbins was eager to start moving on the construction, his builder delivered the bad news.
He said that HRM would not issue a building permit because the lot exceeded 10 hectares.
Meanwhile, Moser Head Road was home to what Robbins estimates was about 8 or 9 homes, including some new builds, all with the same lot size.
The homes sat there in a tidy row, like a taunt next to his barren land.
West Jeddore councillor David Hendsbee told the Chronicle Herald on Wednesday that he has been approached by property owners in the area who are being told they can’t build.
In mid-April, Hendsbee added the issue as a council item and requested an amendment to the city rule.
Hendsbee’s request was originally set to be discussed in council on July 28, but the date was recently bumped to late November.
He sent an email to the mayor, city planner and many other city staff last week demanding an explanation for the delay.
“This will do nothing but further hinder any rural development at all,” wrote Hendsbee, in an email sent on July 25.
He said that since approvals have been granted in the past, the practice should continue until a policy is made.
City planner Bob Bjerke responded to Hendsbee the next day.
He said city staff have been collecting background information and provincial records to properly assess the scope of the 10-hectare issue.
He says the date was changed to better reflect a “realistic target date” given that September is around the corner and the municipal election is in October.
The Chronicle Herald contacted the city on Wednesday to see if there had been recent changes to the building bylaw.
HRM spokesman Adam Richardson said no changes have been made to the Land Use Bylaw for Eastern Shore West, adopted in 1996.
He says there is no bylaw that would prohibit development permits being issued based solely on size. Permits are given as long as zone requirements are met.
“The issue often comes down to street frontage with these larger parcels of land,” said Richardson in an emailed statement.
In order for a permit to be issued, the bylaw requires a structure to be at least 100 feet from local roads and bodies of water. The bylaw also states a minimum lot area of 40,000 square feet, but doesn’t state a maximum size.
But builder Mike Young, from Birkshire Developments Inc., said the issue of street frontage never came up when the building permit was denied.
Young says he was told by the planning department that they wouldn’t issue a building permit because the lot exceeded 10 hectares.
This week, Robbins is in Ontario helping pack up his parents belongings to move them in with him and his son in Dartmouth.
All three Robbins’ generations live under one roof.
“We told him when we moved here in January that we would be out by June,” said Robbins. “Now it looks like we could be here until next July, at the very least.”
Robbins had to take out a sizable mortgage to finance the build, meanwhile he’s being taxed for land that he can’t do anything with.
He’s contemplating selling the lot altogether.
“It’s one thing to make a policy, but I have no idea what the out is,” said Robbins. “I have no idea what I do from here.”