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Halifax abounds with green spaces—but are we protecting them?

How safe are Halifax's wide-open spaces?

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Green-Pressures

It’s amazing what a little trailblazing and some gravel can do.

A new five-kilometre trail in Long Lake Provincial Park opens on Earth Day (April 22). It’s unique because it’s a manicured trail in a 2,000-hectare woodland where the start and stop trails were mostly bushwhacked by people heading for the lakes to go kayaking or canoeing.

Two developers, Polycorp and Atlantic Developments, are spending about $500,000 to build the trail. Regulations require developers to provide green/public space if their projects reach a certain size, but this trail is not part of their obligations.

Atlantic Developments is building Long Lake Village across Northwest Arm Drive from the trail. Many homes are up, but construction is still ongoing. There’s a playground, its paint still a shiny blue, sitting on a stretch of grass.
This green space is one of the requirements in the development agreement with the municipality, said David Graham with Atlantic Developments. The other requirement is a parking lot across the street—a much needed access point to Long Lake Provincial Park.

Donna Flemming, chair of the Long Lake Provincial Park Association, says currently the main access is a “horrendous” parking lot and parking on the shoulder at St. Margaret’s Bay Road, making access to the park difficult. “Because the trails were never accessible, the only people who really used them were people who grew up in the area and knew of the trails beaten down by people walking back to access the lake,” she says.

Flemming says she’s thrilled about the trail, which will connect Northwest Arm Drive, Old Sambro Road, and Peter Saulnier Drive to the existing trail system. She says it will be an accessible, gravel-covered trail where parents with strollers, or people in wheelchairs can meander through the park.

The trail will help with other plans the association has been working on. Flemming says the trail will lead to a spot by Old Sambro Road where they’d like to build a picnic area.

While building a trail may appear like a purely altruistic gesture by the two developers, it’s not. Graham says it’s also business decision: it helps sell Long Lake Village.

“In this particular instance, Long Lake Provincial Park is a jewel in the heart of Halifax and it’s only 10 minutes from downtown,” he says. “It’s an amazing asset to have such a phenomenal park and a 3.5-kilometre lake only 10 minutes from downtown but I don’t think it’s an asset if people can’t use it.”

It’s fairly rare, Graham says, for developers to go beyond what they’re required to do by the municipality. “The trail is a deal we as developers did with the provincial government and it had nothing to do with any development rights we got on the land at Long Lake Village,” he says.

When a development reaches a certain size, developers must provide 10 per cent of the developed area for some kind of open space to be used by the public, explains Peter Bigelow, HRM manager of real property and planning. But exactly what kind of public open space obligation (trails, playgrounds, etc.) varies in urban, suburban, and rural developments.

Bigelow’s current project will help developers and the municipality figure out what type of open space is needed where. He has spent the past year working on the Halifax Green Network Plan, which is examining all open spaces. Open spaces aren’t just parks and playgrounds, but anything open to the sky including streets and bodies of water. The plan will go out to the public this spring for feedback before landing at council later this spring or early summer.

Couple_enjoying_Lakeview_Trail_Feb16

HRM is using a “three-pronged approach” to analyze green spaces, Bigelow says: transportation and recreation (like trails), heritage preservation (both natural and cultural), and protection of natural ecosystems.

Some green spaces were by design, like Point Pleasant Park, but some weren’t. Unplanned spaces like these are usually land holdings left in a natural state. An example is the large tract of 485 hectares at Big Five Bridges Lake.
The point of the Green Network Plan is to identify open spaces of value so when HRM makes decisions they’re deliberate and don’t leave it to chance, Bigelow says.

It will help craft better community plans, he adds, so development happens in the right places. “The mission here is to find where we have high value because you can’t save everything…That’s not the ambition of council. Council [said] to come back to us with a lens that we can look through to get a perspective on open space so we can use it to make good decisions.”

HRM is huge and what communities want for public space is amazingly different. Take for example some small communities on the Eastern Shore of about 500 people each, stretched out on ribbon developments along stretches of highway. Bigelow says he visited the area to ask residents what they want for open spaces. “What do you think is what they told us they’re looking for?”

If you guess trails, you’re very wrong.

“They needed a piece of asphalt so their kids could learn how to ride a bike before they get out on the public highway so their kids could be safe,” Bigelow says. “When you start thinking that way: what the kids in the urban areas need, they need access to grass and trees. It could be almost the inverse.”

Having an inventory of open spaces and getting feedback on what is needed as part of the Green Network Plan is immensely for HRM’s planning and to help developers with their pitches, Bigelow says. “I think it’s frustrating for everyone when someone has to guess what’s in the best interest of the public, they’re going to do it from their own personal perspective,” he says. “We don’t want to take new lands just for the sake of creating new parks if they’re not warranted. That’s part of what we’re examining in our open space plan is where do we need these things and where can they play multiple roles.”

ROOM TO BREATHE

• There are 878 designated parks in HRM ranging in size from 1,600 hectares to 37 square metres.

• Within those parks there are 381 playgrounds.

• Public parkland and park wilderness areas comprise two per cent of the total municipality.

• Some 16 per cent (7,260 hectares) of the current actual settled area is public parkland and park wilderness areas currently serving the public.

• Halifax has 0.024 hectares of parkland and park wilderness areas per person (based on 410,000 people).

• The total area of the municipality is 549,229 hectares, but total settled area (where residents live and work) is 45,376 hectares.

Source: Peter Bigelow/HRM

AU NATURALE

“The 2,095 hectare Long Lake Provincial Park contains a relatively natural landscape which includes three lakes, a diversity of natural habitats and cultural features… The property was designated under the Parks Act in 1984 and is managed by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. Although protected by legislation for
almost 25 years, no facilities or services have been provided.”

Source: Province of Nova Scotia

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