‘Iconic’ development for downtown Halifax gets thumbs-up

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HALIFAX -The development that could transform an entire block in downtown Halifax has received a resounding endorsement from the city’s Design Review Committee.

The proposed design at the corner of George and Granville streets for 22nd Commerce Squar. SUBMITTED PHOTO METRO

The committee debated 22nd Commerce Square for about three hours Thursday night, ultimately accepting a mostly positive staff report – and even rejecting the sole two conditions suggested by city staff.

“This is a very complex proposal, I think it’s an iconic opportunity for the city of Halifax,” said committee member Louis Lemoine.

The staff report recommended approval of the site plan, which included variances on setbacks, building depth and encroachment, among others.

The two conditions recommended by staff related to the preservation of heritage materials, addressing proposed changes to the Champlain building at the corner of Duke and Hollis and the Bank of Commerce Building at George and Granville.

After a presentation from Lydon Lynch architect Eugene Pieczonka, the committee agreed the alterations represented a  “reasonable change to improve (the buildings’) functional and economic viability,” as stated in HRM’s Design Manual.

“There will be some historic material lost…but pretend heritage would be built in its place,” said committee member and former city planner Andy Fillmore.

There was some debate over whether the developer should be accorded the bonus height of 85 metres, well above the HRM by Design maximum of 49 metres.

Some committee members felt the changes to the interior of four heritage buildings on the block constituted “demolition” of the buildings, therefore excluding the development from eligibility for bonus height.

“The heritage space is also the inside of the building,” said committee chair Ramzi Kawar. “What you’re preserving is also the experience inside, not just outside.”

Ultimately, the committee voted to allow the bonus height, citing the public benefit of the building’s proposed LEED certification, public amenities, and preservation of the heritage buildings’ façade.

“It’s very rare to see a project come along that is offering to preserve some or all of five buildings, so this is a pretty astonishing opportunity,” said Fillmore.

The committee also voted for a change that would replace the tinted glass “concertina” design of the south tower with a more conventional and subdued flat glass façade suggested by Pieczonka.

The committee’s recommendation now goes to regional council for a final decision.

Organizations: Bank of Commerce Building

Geographic location: Halifax

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