All Part of the Plan

Posted by Gordon Grainger on April 25, 2013

Driving down Dartmouth Road into Bedford, Nova Scotia, you’ll see three large, undeveloped building lots in a row. It’s a strange sight, considering this somewhat sleepy suburb has been a desirable and affluent community for decades. With a building boom to the south recently, fuelled in part by of the lack of remaining space in the older section of Bedford, this empty parcel is all the more unusual.

There’s a single owner of all three properties, and he wants to develop it. He planned a four-storey, 48-unit condominium project for the site; a higher density than the surrounding area but certainly not a monstrosity. The majority of the site would remain undeveloped, maintaining a fairly green feel to the neighbourhood. In keeping with the more affluent composition surrounding it, these would be mid-range and high-end units.

Halifax’s North End community is significantly different from tony Bedford. It’s a neighbourhood that has seen far better times. Gottingen Street has felt the ebb and flow of prosperity often, and the graffiti, dilapidated buildings and empty lots today are clear indicators of its current state. In spite or because of this, it’s a proud neighbourhood, and it’s easy to spot the community spirit of its residents. It may have more than its share of working poor, but they put a lot more emphasis on the first part.

Two gravel lots stand out as you walk along the street, heading into the downtown core. Considering there’s no longer a grocery store or a bank in the residential neighbourhood, having empty spaces seems a waste. The city has a growing need for good low-income housing as well, and a desire to bring people back to the downtown. A local development group bought the two sites and wants to build ten-storey affordable housing units on each lot, with space for commercial units at street level.

For both the Bedford and Gottingen developments, zoning regulations need to be changed to permit these projects going ahead. Both developers had foreseen that objection, preparing studies and drafting plans to ensure the local politicians understand the value in permitting these projects to proceed. Both were prepared to consider altering their plans to gain government approval. Neither one expected failure.

And then they went to the public for support. In both cases, it wasn’t there. The former project has been cancelled a year after it was announced, the latter still in a holding pattern three years after the properties were purchased.

For the developers, it seems they faltered right at the end, just before they could gain the approval to start building. Except in both cases the failure began much earlier, when they did not engage with the community at the start of their planning. By discovering community concerns up front, tailoring their plans to the needs and desires of residents, and building support while developing their concepts, they could have ensured swift approval.

When you compare the amount of money spent on studies, architectural plans, site surveys, and business plans, versus the cost of a community engagement strategy, it’s simply sound business practice to involve a company like Broadview before the project is in its first draft. Instead of turning to us after a project goes sour, we can help right from the initial plan. Yes, it’s possible to recover from a poor first step, but you need to make sure you’re not standing on a cliff first.