Halifax Mayor Mike Savage has vowed to change a bylaw preventing some rural landowners from building homes after they staged a protest in front of city hall Tuesday.
Imagine buying a 10-hectare piece of land in a rural part of the city like West Jeddore. The land is cleared for purchase, but the city denies you a building permit.
This happened to several landowners in the HRM who were left pointing fingers at all the homes already standing on lots the same size as their barren land.
“We are going to change this law that . . . has recently been enforced, that hadn’t been enforced before,” Savage said to a crowd of about 100 people at a protest in front of city hall Tuesday afternoon.
But the process can be quite lengthy, especially since this issue is scheduled to go before the new regional council in November.
Savage said he would work with councillors David Hendsbee and Bill Karsten to try and find a way landowners can build in the short term.
And he added that they hope to bring this short-term solution forward by Oct. 6.
West Jeddore landowner Andrew Robbins was standing behind the mayor as he spoke, clapping his hands in support.
Just an hour before, Robbins took to the podium to express his frustrations about being ignored by the city and not given the private meetings he had sought.
In April, Robbins had hired a local contractor and was ready to build a home for him, his wife and his parents.
They had recently purchased a 14-hectare piece of land on a private road, and did so with guidance from a real estate agent, a lawyer and surrounding neighbours.
But when his building permit was denied by the city, all four of them had to move in with Robbins’ son in Dartmouth — three generations living under one roof.
“With this bylaw, city council determines where you live and that is a frightening level of power,” Robbins said.
During the protest Savage tried to take the podium earlier to speak to the crowd.
But protesters made it clear they wanted a private meeting with him, something they’d asked for all along.
Savage then invited the landowners into city hall for a one-on-one chat.
Several municipal candidates also took to the podium to voice their support, including Savage’s mayoral opponent, Lil MacPherson.
“It took you guys to scream and yell and throw some flags in the air,” MacPherson said after the private meeting had concluded.
“You don’t take a bylaw that’s never been used in 20 years, dust it off and apply it within 24 hours,” she said.
Accordijng to the municipal bylaw, there must be at least 30 metres of distance between the residence and the road, 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.
But in an interview with the Chronicle Herald in August, chief planner Bob Bjerke said nine properties in rural Halifax have slipped past these regulations.
During the protest, the crowd chanted and echoed the frustrations of nearly every speaker as they held up signs reading, “Rural land is not your playground” and “We want rural bylaws.”
Many of the attendees and speakers resided in rural communities like Musquodoboit and Fall River, and were transported in by a bus organized by citizen advocacy group Save Rural HRM.
The issue of building on rural land may not have affected everyone directly, but it did give many a sense that the voices of rural residents were not being heard.
By the end, Savage tried to assure them that they were.
“We are going to work with you,” he said.
Original publish date: Sept. 20, 2016