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Questions still loom after study on servicing of Purcell’s Cove backlands

Summer brings hordes of Haligonians to Purcell’s Cove. At the same time, a study that could impact the future of the backlands will be back at council

by Erica Butler

Wiliams Lake, May 2012, as yet unspoiled by service lines [Photo: M. Dobson]
Wiliams Lake, May 2012, as yet unspoiled by service lines [Photo: M. Dobson]
Screenshot from CBCL - North Backlands Option of sewage line placement
Screenshot from CBCL - North Backlands Option of sewage line placement

K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - Residents in Purcell’s Cove are questioning the numbers in a study on the feasibility of extending sewer and water services along a 3-kilometre stretch of Purcell’s Cove Road. And they’re concerned their questions may not get answered since the dissolution of a committee meant to serve as a liaison with the community. 

The Purcell's Cove Servicing Study Steering Committee was disbanded after 4 members resigned in late March, leaving the committee unable to make quorum just days before a meeting to discuss a recommendation against extending city sewer and water services. 

The members won't comment on the timing of their resignations. All happened over the same weekend, shortly before one of the committee's final meetings. The committee has been a focal point for community opposition to the study since it was struck in May 2012. Member Glen Carrigan stated in his resignation letter that "the function of the Steering Committee does not have full support of the community."

After the resignations, the Halifax and West Community Council, a sub-group of Regional Council spanning six districts, voted to scrap the committee instead of starting the lengthy process to find new members.

Councillor Steve Adams said the committee’s work was done, though it had yet to table a recommendation.

The committee was also set to discuss the options and costs for servicing presented by study engineers CBCL at their last meeting.

"It's very frustrating," says Melanie Dobson. "By resigning and taking away quorum, they stopped the process.”  

Dobson sat on the committee representing the Williams Lake Conservation Company, a community group devoted to protecting Williams Lake and its watershed. 

Dobson wrote the draft recommendation against extending services which would have been discussed on  March 25th, before the resignations effectively dissolved the committee.

Dobson says the committee had also been planning to ask questions on behalf of residents regarding CBCL's recently released figures. 

CBCL estimates a total price tag of $15 to $17 million for the extension, depending on what route the pipes take, and where pumping stations and/or treatment facilities are built. That cost would not be covered by HRM, but split between property owners in the area. 

How the $15 million cost would be divided has sparked questions in the community. 

Some residents say CBCL is overestimating the number of property owners or lots that could share the burden.   CBCL's numbers range from 245 lots (about $60,000 per) to 1460 lots (about $10,000 per), depending on whether or not the area can be rezoned for higher density development.  

But some residents have crunched their own numbers and say that CBCL's count includes unbuildable properties and lots that could not be subdivided. 

They say that on the high end, property owners would be looking at a personal price tag of $130,000 each to bring water and sewage to this section of Purcell’s Cove Road.

Dobson and the Williams Lake Conservation Company are also concerned about the route of the cheapest servicing option presented by CBCL. 

The $15 million Backlands Option would mean water and sewer lines and a service road cutting through the middle of a 394 acre property owned by Clayton Developments, spanning between Williams Lake and Colpitts Lake.  

Clayton purchased the land in 2011, shortly after HRM decided to study extension of services.

Dobson is concerned that even though it's a "very fragile watershed area" complete with wetlands and wildlife, the costs for environmental mitigation haven't been included in CBCL's estimates. In fact, environmental impacts were not included in the terms of reference for CBCL's study, though they did include a traffic study and a look at impacts to current infrastructure.

"People are feeling that we're not done with this story," says Johanna Lunn, of the Purcell's Cove Area 1 Resident's Action Committee.   "We still have a developer who's bought land… And they'll still want to change their zoning," says Lunn, referring to the former McCurdy Estate lands now owned by Clayton Developments.

Last year Clayton shared potential plans to build a community for 4300 new residents on the property, but city water and sewer are key to a development of that density.   Without city services, Clayton’s options would be limited by the property’s Urban Reserve designation under the HRM Regional Plan. 

Urban Reserve lands are deemed reserved for future serviced development, but not within the 25 year lifespan of the plan. This means that Clayton may even have trouble subdividing their property into large unserviced lots that can accommodate wells and septic systems.    

On the flip side, without development of the Clayton property, the extension of services may not be feasible. At the first public meeting in the study process in May 2012, before any formal studies had been done, CBCL engineer Gordon Smith told residents that the service extension was "probably not feasible" within the community "as it is now."

"We've felt in some ways victimized by the city," says Lunn. "Their study was not designed to establish whether people wanted [services] or not. It was really established to see what type of development people wanted."

CBCL and HRM planning staff will submit a final report on the servicing study to Halifax and West Community Council, who are expected to discuss it in June. 

They won't have a recommendation from their community steering committee, but Councillor Steve Adams has indicated that the work of the committee, including the results of a community survey on the issue, will be considered.  

The HRM-administered survey shows a majority of residents don't want city services even if cost is no issue. An ever higher percentage said no to supporting "some level of residential development" in order to reduce the cost of bringing in services. The results closely mirror those of two petitions organized by community residents opposing the study after it was announced in 2011. 

"On the one hand it's great that our voice is coming forward and that we're finally being heard," says Lunn. "But on the other hand it's also a huge wake up call to all of HRM… If we believe the urban core is where the development should be taking place, then how could [HRM] have ever spent $100,000 to look at the potential of development in a parcel of land that isn't even within that target area?"  

"We all feel that if you own land you should be able to do with it what you want," says Lunn. However, she adds, "we don't want [Clayton] to develop beyond the implication of the zoning."

Melanie Dobson thinks we should consider the impacts even beyond the 25 year span of the Regional Plan. "This is about looking at all of Halifax," says Dobson. "And what will it look like in 50 or 100 years time? Where will the green spaces be? If you don't really stake them out and protect them, there won't be any."


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