It’s just after 5:30 on Tuesday afternoon and Lisa Sullivan is having a few neighbourhood friends over for drinks and pizza at Freeman’s Little New York on Dutch Village Road. As a band plays, she hosts parents and kids, business owners, politicians and community constables. She’s the restaurant’s operations manager, but unofficially she’s Fairview’s community ambassador. Freeman’s hosts about 100 events each year: community meetings, sports gatherings, family days and holiday events. It’s all an effort to support the neighbourhood she’s called home since she was nine.
“I’m pretty passionate about my community,” Sullivan says. “I feel safe and comfortable. I have a lot of friends in the community. People say to me, ‘You will never leave Fairview,’ and I probably won’t. It’s where I feel my best.”
Fairview is undergoing a lot of changes—Sullivan is meeting new neighbours, including developers who have built or are building new residential and business complexes just around the corner from Freeman’s. The first development in this area of Dutch Village is St. Lawrence Place with 132 suites, 50 of which are rentals, the other 82 are condos. It sits on the property where St. Lawrence Parish once stood (hence its name). It’s 13 storeys high with a smaller office tower next door that now houses Telus and other businesses; people in Fairview have watched these buildings rise floor by floor for a few years. It dwarfs the small businesses beside it, a modern giant against a neighbourhood of older homes and smaller businesses.
According to Maurice Fares, vice-president of operations at WM Fares Group, the developer responsible for St. Lawrence Place, location was one of the primary reasons to move into Fairview. “We purchased the property knowing we were going to have a driveway off Joseph Howe Drive,” he says. “And that was important to us, the Joe Howe address.”
The area has other amenities that appealed to the developer, including access to the Bi-Hi and Bedford Highway. And from the top-floor units there are views of the city: the West End, North End and Bedford Basin. “We like to think we’re pretty central,” he says.
Fares says the company also worked closely with the former St. Lawrence Church, which used to sit at the corner of Dutch Village and Joe Howe, on the acquisition of the land, and kept them informed on the development. In the building’s lobby, a statue from the former church sits in a glass case next to a fireplace.
WM Fares Group is also the developer of the Mount Royal at the top of Fairview, just off the Northwest Arm Drive. And it has other developments in the works for the Joseph Howe area: including design work on new buildings for the area.
“We are still pretty tied into this community,” Fares says. “We’ve been dealing with modernizing. What we really like about this community is its potential. Fairview seems like this untapped neighbourhood in the middle of Halifax.”
Another development will soon break ground just down the street from Freeman’s. The old site of Halifax West High School has stood empty for years. According to its website, United Gulf will build two seven-storey residential tower, a one-storey retail property, a six-storey office tower and a three-storey retail and commercial annex. Public space with a playground and benches are part of the design, which Community Council approved in 2012. Currently, there are trailers near the site. Officials from United Gulf were unavailable for comment.
But there were other visions for this site long before United Gulf purchased the land. Tamara Lorincz lived in Fairview for 14 years with her husband and two young children. She co-founded the Fairview Clayton Park Community Action Network, which eventually evolved into the Fairview Community Association. She also started a group called Imagine Fairview, she says, to raise awareness about the loss of public land at the site and to look at possibilities to develop it for the community. She says more than 400 people signed a petition opposing the United Gulf’s development on the former school land.
“We wanted a similar process to Imagine Bloomfield that was taking place in the North End to happen in Fairview, but the city ignored us and Mayor Kelly refused to meet with us,” says Lorincz, who is now living in the U.K. until next year.
That group’s vision for the land includes a new community centre, skate park, community garden, water spray park, off-lease space, bike paths, benches, public art, basketball and tennis courts and an outdoor rink in the winter. Lorincz says she’s still disappointed that the city sold the land for less than its value. She is waiting for details of the sale from the Freedom of Information and Privacy Office of Nova Scotia, which is still reviewing the case. “I honestly think it was a great theft and should be investigated by the Auditor General of Nova Scotia,” she says.
But Keith Wells, the current chair of the Fairview Community Association and a pastor with Mosaic Ministries on Willett Street, says the discussion over the former Halifax West site is over. “There will always be conflict around the idea of development, especially high-rise development,” Wells says. “We’ll never solve that…You put the argument aside and look at the positives of what we have here.”
Wells says those positives for Fairview are more people in the area and spinoffs from development. Condo owners, he says, are invested in a community. And the new developments will bring sidewalks, which are sporadic on Dutch Village, trees, green spaces, stores and benches will be available for everyone in the community. Wells calls the area around Dutch Village and Joseph Howe an “enclave” that is perfectly positioned for development.
“When I look at the Hydrostone—and not to hold up the Hydrostone as the beacon of what you want your community to look like—but the rejuvenation of that area happened because some businesses moved in and people moved in,” he says. “Hopefully, the same will happen here.”
He agrees green space is an issue in Fairview. The new development includes a green space in a former backfield once used by the high school. And Fairview, he points out, still has green spaces in Piercy Field, school playgrounds and Titus Park where the association holds its annual tree lighting. “It’s not completely cemented over,” he says.
Sullivan says United Gulf, like WH Fares, has been involved in the community from the get-go. She says the company has been “fabulous” about getting out and connecting with the local businesses. Their contributions to the community, she says, have included funding for fireworks for a family day at Freeman’s.
John Ghosn has spent a lot of years in Fairview. He moved his family there in 1989 into a three-bedroom bungalow at the top of Coronation Street that backed onto a park and had a one-bedroom apartment in the basement. “That was a great starting spot for me and my family,” he says. “It was very affordable.”
Three years later, he got into real estate and continues to sell homes in the area. He remembers well the reputation of Fairview in the real estate market back then. “Some people referred to it as the dog’s breakfast,” he says. “It was cheap and it was rough. You could still buy on the peninsula back then, it was reasonable, but it was still less expensive in Fairview. It was sleepy.”
Then real estate on the peninsula was running low and more expensive, so buyers started looking to Fairview where homes are. Then the commercial developers came to the area with retailers like Shoppers Drug Mart, Giant Tiger and the Superstore. Other local businesses moved in, including Freeman’s, a staple on Qunipool Road and Grafton Street. “There’s no question they are coming around,” he says. “Fairview has been stuck on stuck for a long time. And its day has come.”