What is the Centre Plan?
The centre plan is a group of planning documents designed to guide land-use and future growth within the urban centre of the region – specifically peninsular Halifax and Dartmouth within the Circumferential Highway. This area, which is the economic and cultural core of the region, is home to over 25% of the population of HRM, while covering only 1% of the total area.
By replacing the 4 separate plans that currently govern land use in the core, the centre plan is designed to simplify the development process and to create a regulatory framework with a consistent vision. The goal of the plan is to ensure smart growth in accommodating 18,000 new residents over the next 10-15 years.
The first half of the plan (Package A) was passed and become law in September 2019. The second half (Package B) was initially planned to be passed in September 2020. However, the COVD-19 pandemic disrupted the public engagement process, and in turn – the project timeline. There is currently no definitive completion timeline for Package B.
Package A primarily dealt with areas which are targeted to accommodate a significant amount of growth. These areas include:
- Downtown Dartmouth
- Centres (Quinpool, Gottingen, Robie, Wyse, etc.)
- Corridors (Windsor, Bayers, Agricola, Windmill, etc.)
- Higher-Order Residential (areas of existing residential density or height)
- Future Growth Nodes (Shannon Park, Penhorn Mall, Dartmouth Cove etc.)
Future growth nodes include large areas of underutilized potential – close to major road and transportation corridors.
Package B proposes land-use guidelines for the remainder of the urban centre. It includes regulations for the following zones:
- Parks and Community Facilities
- Downtown Halifax
- Established Residential (low density/single family neighbourhoods)
- Institutional (universities, hospitals, etc.)
- Industrial/Commercial Employment (Dockyards, Railyards, etc.)
- Water Access (Boatclubs, Waterfront, Lake Banook, etc.)
Why does it matter?
When Package B is approved, all low-density residential areas (currently R-1) will permit secondary suites, backyard suites, shared housing, urban agriculture, home occupations, and commercial uses. The new zone will be called ‘Established Residential’ (ER) and the intent is to preserve existing neighborhood character while also increasing density. Providing avenues to increase density is important to keep housing affordable despite increased population growth. Knowing that these regulations are in the pipeline should be welcome news to peninsula and Downtown Dartmouth investors looking to supplement mortgage costs.
The centre plan currently permits a maximum height limit of 90 meters (27 storeys) in certain zones (primarily centres and corridors). This rule has largely come under criticism for being a likely product of political pressure rather than being backed by evidence.
However, for larger-scale developments, the Centre Plan also allows density bonusing – which could include additional height in exchange for a public good. Acceptable public benefits could include: affordable housing, public art, or heritage conservation.
Other changes in the plan include the streamlining of the site plan approval process, reducing parking requirements for new developments, emphasizing transit corridors, and even allowing backyard chicken coops and beehives.
Halifax has finally hit its stride and is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. While there is debate over whether the long-awaiting centre plan is the right document to address the challenges that come with exponential growth, the need to streamline the development process and encourage smart growth is paramount. The planning steps that are taken now will be evident for generations to come. For more information on the Centre Plan, check out the link below.