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Councillor hopes staff report can stop construction of 16-storey Lake Banook hotel

Coun. Sam Austin took regional council on a fishing expedition Tuesday in the Lake Banook area.

“I’m bringing this forward and it very well might be that there is not too much we can do about it,”Austin, who represents Dartmouth Centre, said of a proposed 16-storey hotel for the corner of Prince Albert Road and Glenwood Avenue in Dartmouth, several hundred metres from Lake Banook.

“To say this one has been controversial would be an understatement,” Austin said. “It has a long history. It was originally a 15-storey apartment proposal back in 2012 that council said no to.”

The developer, Monaco Investment Partnership, appealed council’s decision to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board but the decision was upheld, Austin said.

The project was then redesigned to 10 storeys, and municipal staff countered with a nine-storey recommendation. It then came back to regional council, where Austin asked if six storeys could be considered, a request that was supported by council. The developer came back and said it could do seven storeys and a penthouse.

“It was a very divisive and very difficult public hearing, where council said this is a fair compromise and we’ll go for this eight-storey building.”

But Austin said “a funny thing happened to that compromise” along the way.

“Lurking in the background throughout all of this, and part of why we are going to need the centre plan, is that in Dartmouth, you can’t build anything more than a triplex. Once you have that fourth unit, you have to come to council for a development agreement. But if you have commercial zoning, then there are no restrictions on a hotel. You can build up to the sky and beyond. There is no control over it. From a logical perspective, that makes no sense whatsoever.”

The centre plan that is still months away from completion and becoming policy would prevent such an occurrence.

“We’re left with the situation that this is now before the community. The zoning allows it and the permits have been issued. It’s thrown a lot of people because ... the main response I’ve had throughout all the work that’s gone into this is that most people were happy with the compromise.”

Now, Austin wants to invoke some magic to get the project stopped or at least stalled and council supported him with an 11-2 vote.

The vote was to request a staff report on what options the municipality might have that would ensure an as-of-right hotel development does not proceed at the site. Options to consider, the motion read, should include but not be limited to current planning bylaws and requirements, acquisition of the site through purchase or expropriation and the potential for a negotiated land swap with the developer.

Austin said it’s unlikely that Kelly Denty, director of the municipal planning department, can pull a rabbit out of her hat.

“What it really comes down to in terms of my frustrations on this and the community’s is that the developer is well within his legal rights to do this,” Austin said. “In life, there are many situations that all of us face that it may legally be allowed to do this but that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. This one is so wrong for the community. All the feedback from the centre plan, all the feedback that went into this development, this is not in Dartmouth’s best interest so I really think it’s worth turning over the stones to see if there is anything at all we can do about this.”

A couple of councillors did not agree.

“You’re asking for a staff report for something we already know the answer to,” Coun. Shawn Cleary (Halifax West-Armdale) said.

Coun. Russell Walker (Halifax-Bedford Basin West) said it was not a good use of staff time.

“Developments in my district are way behind,” Walker said. “Where is this on the pecking order, does this go to the top? He (Monaco Investments) has building permits from October. He can start tomorrow. What does it do to all the legitimate requests that are in to the planning department?”

Coun. Steve Craig said the developer should be directed to his district in Lower Sackville.

“It would be a win-win,” Craig said of building a hotel in Lower Sackville. “There’s a real good business case out in Sackville.”

Coun. David Hendsbee (Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore) wondered what would stop the developer from building the hotel and later converting it into residential building, thereby circumventing earlier council decisions to get the development initially requested.

“Maybe there is something that can be done here as a negotiation,” Austin said hopefully.

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