Planning staff wrestles with rural development woes

via The Chronicle Herald

After receiving several complaints from rural Halifax residents, the planning department is speaking out on a bylaw causing development woes.

“There is a sense out there that there has been something new introduced,” said Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) planner Bob Bjerke on Wednesday.

“It actually isn’t the case.”

For some Eastern Shore residents, the issue began with the purchase of a lot more than 10 hectares in size. Their plan was to build their dream home among other houses already in the area.

But that dream was crushed when the city refused to issue building permits.

West Jeddore property owners Andrew and Suzanne Robbins told the Chronicle Herald they were told their lot is too big to build on.

Now they and other disgruntled residents are pointing fingers at all the homes standing on lots the same size as their still-barren land.

Bjerke said nine properties in rural Halifax have slipped past bylaw regulations.

“That isn’t something we would do again,” he said, adding these bylaws were issued over a 10-year span.

“Because they wouldn’t actually meet the subdivision regulations that we have.”

Sufficient street frontage is one of those regulations.

As per the HRM bylaw, the city requires that there be at least 30 metres of distance between the residence and the road.

He said the reason for this is to ensure the public can gain access, and to maintain services like street cleaning and snowplowing.

This also applies, even more strictly, to private roads.

“If you have a parcel that doesn’t front a public street then that’s where, generally, you’re not able to subdivide and do most types of development,” he said.

The tricky, and confusing, aspect is that land-use bylaws are different depending on the community in HRM.

Bjerke said his staff may have denied a building permit based solely on the size of the lot — but only if it was located in a zone that didn’t permit other residential development.

The reason these lots are bought in the first place is thanks to a provincial loophole, he said, that exempts a purchaser from needing to get municipal approval when they buy and register a large plot of land.

But landowners then face the inevitable roadblock of trying to get the city’s go-ahead for the building permit.

“That can create a lot of confusion for people,” said Bjerke.

“They created a subdivision and they have an idea in their head of what they would like to do with the property.”

Bjerke said large lots can be subdivided, but this depends on what the land use bylaws are in that area.

Since news came out about these restrictions, Bjerke and city staff have been blamed for impeding rural growth.

“The focus for us is actually to encourage rural, economic development.”

He said the planning department is now reaching out to speak with anyone with a building issue.

“That doesn’t mean, in every instance, if the regulations don’t support that you will still be able to go ahead and do the work you intended,” he said.

“What we want to do is understand the particular circumstances and come up with a response.”

Bjerke said the issue is scheduled for a regional council meeting in November, although it could be brought up sooner.

“Not to diminish some of the concerns of the property owners, one of the things that is really important is to check the development rights for your property.”

He advises residents call 311 or visit the cities answers to commonly asked questions regarding rural lots at halifax.ca/As-Of-Right-Development.

Meanwhile, a group of Eastern Shore residents and builders are holding a meeting Thursday to discuss their next steps.

Original publish date: Aug. 17, 2016

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