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Evolution of a vision

After considerable public input, plans for the Bedford waterfront continue to progress

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Photo: Mark Currie

Photo: Mark Currie

A new vision presented by Waterfront Development at a public re-engagement session at Sunnyside Mall in April and May last year represents about half of the plan presented to the public by Waterfront Development in 2010. The original plan had 2,300 residential units on 15 hectares. The most recent vision has 1,300 units on seven hectares. This new plan is the result of considerable public input after a lot of residents disapproved of the 2010 plan.

“The government can give a permit, but only the community can give permission,” says Andy Fillmore, vice-president, planning and development, Waterfront Development. “We are taking that advice in Bedford now.”

Most recently, Waterfront Development announced it would work to preserve Crosby Island by digging trenches in the area, which at high tide would allow fish to swim through, and at low tide allow people to explore the area. But the island sits on land owned by United Gulf, and nothing about its future is yet confirmed. (United Gulf was contacted for this story, but we didn’t receive a response as of press time.)

“We can’t be specific about Crosby Island and the ledges because we don’t own them,” says Fillmore. “But rest assured we are going to work very hard with the community, the landowner and the city to ensure that the community vision gets in front of council.”

The announcement was good news to the organizers of Save Bedford’s Waterfront Society.

“This is one of the very first asks from us in the beginning back in 2010,” says Mark Currie, president of the Society. “We submitted a letter to Waterfront Development asking for that very thing, looking at reinstating Crosby Island as an island, preserving the tidal pool, and a substantial park. We’re making significant headway.”

Waterfront Development is still in the information gathering stage following the public sessions at Sunnyside.

“When we presented the Sunnyside plan, we felt we had one that really captured the imagination and aspirations of the community, but we were also clear on asking, ‘Did we get it right? How can we make it even better?’ And that’s the great richness of the dialogue that followed,” Fillmore says.

The final plan depends on the results of a few studies, including one on Halifax Transit and another on commuter rail. “We’re not drawing any plans right now,” Fillmore says. “It would be foolhardy to start the next iteration of the project while all this information is still in development.”

Once a plan is development, Council will have to develop policy around it, which requires more public consultation.

“There is still a lot of public conversation to have on this, in the nature of open, transparent and democratic development, which is great,” Fillmore says. “That’s how you get good projects.”

The plan presented at Sunnyside showed “regularizing” an unfinished edge, which means filling it in and smoothing it out so that a proper boardwalk could be built. According to a summary report posted on Waterfront Development’s website, the existing infill footprint will be used to “accommodate future development and minimize the amount of new fill required to secure the edges of the site.”

“That was the Sunnyside plan and things could change there,” he says. “We don’t know what the final plan will be. We’re waiting for all the information to be gathered first.”

The Save the Bedford Waterfront Society, meanwhile, is holding out for a coastal park, which it says is the desire of the larger community. On its website, the Society says a marine park was included in the Bedford Waterfront Development Act of 1989.

According to Fillmore, the plan unveiled at Sunnyside has 57 per cent green space in what he calls a “rich variety” of spaces, including large event spaces, smaller concert spaces and a coastal park.

“We’ve been very clear: we want, minimum, half that site turned into a continuous park,” Currie says.

But it wasn’t just the plan that made the news, but also the players themselves. And in the past five years, they say they’ve all learned lessons about development, the environment and the power of public input.

When Currie posted two videos on YouTube of the wildlife that resides in the Bedford Basin reef that would be lost to development, he didn’t know what a response it would get. Those videos led to him and Sandra Banfield creating the Society and gathering public support for a coastal park. They say they also learned how best to deliver their message.

“Social media is king,” Banfield says. “I learned that community is very important, community can change things, and there’s power in numbers.”

They shared facts about the waterfront, Crosby Island and the infilling via Twitter and Facebook feeds, all of which Waterfront Development followed. “The story of the Bedford Waterfront is being told on every day on Twitter and Facebook in a way it wasn’t even two or three years ago,” Fillmore says.”

Environment was on residents’ minds, too. “I think people have more concern for the environment than before and I think developers will have to look at that,” Banfield says. “I don’t think they were expecting the community to push back the way they did.”

For Fillmore says community involvement is key. Waterfront Development, he says, learned that in 2010 with the first plan.

“I think we learned that the people were pretty shocked to see the size of the buildings, the renderings that were prepared for a planner were beautiful and told a great story, but to someone who lived next door perhaps it was overwhelming,” he says. “It seemed like a lot. So there was something in the communication of that plan that led to the erosion of its support.”

6 Big Moves for Bedford’s waterfront

The plan Waterfront Development presented at the Sunnyside Mall public re-engagement sessions last year session outlined “6 Big Moves.”

1. Enhance public access and connections to Bedford Basin

2. Create a variety of connected public spaces that anchor the development

3. Integrate and enhance natural features

4. Create a waterfront that is well-connected and supports mobility

5. Incorporate a mix of uses to animate public spaces and create economic activity

6. Lead by example with world-class standards for development.

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