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Greenbelting

The Regional Plan is a 25-year blueprint for achieving sustainable and balanced growth that preserves the environment, supports transit and efficient transportation, and maintains strong economy. The Plan promotes compact, well-planned and healthy communities. It also protects residents and future tax payers by ensuring that new developments make efficient use of current infrastructure and steers development away from lands that may pose future problems such as flooding and an inadequate supply of drinking water.

HRM is currently undertaking its first five-year review of the Regional Plan adopted by Council in 2006. Regional Council approved the scope of the five-year review and will make the final decision on changes to the Plan. The process includes several phases of public consultation, the first of which took place in the spring of 2012. The public was also invited to comment on the draft plan in the spring and summer of 2013. Public consultation will conclude with a public hearing.

RP+5 and the Concept of Greenbelting

During the first phase of public consultation, the concept of greenbelting emerged as an issue important to the community. The following questions and answers explore this topic in greater detail.

What is a greenbelting?

Greenbelts are generally defined as large areas of forested/farm land or open space surrounding cities or towns upon which development is restricted. Presently greenbelts are one of the ways in which a city may define where and how it wants to grow by identifying areas that are protected or not suitable for development, and areas where building is allowed. More recent thinking sees greenbelting not as a singular band around a city but a network that shapes and reaches into the fabric of each community.

In HRM’s view, greenbelting would include provincially protected wilderness areas, wetlands and watercourse buffers, cultural landscapes, urban parks and forests, natural and recreational links. It would also include forestry and agricultural lands, and lands not suitable for development such as floodplains. These land categories (there are approximately 40 of them) are already part of the Regional Plan’s planning framework and currently make up about 70% of HRM’s territory. By clearly identifying specific areas in need of protection, HRM can be more strategic in designing complete and healthy communities as well as in acquiring and managing its parks and natural areas.

Does HRM have a greenbelt?

Essentially yes, although the greenbelting terminology has not been used up to this point. HRM’s Regional Plan envisions growing the city through the implementation of smart, well balanced development policies and regulations, and contains many elements embodied by greenbelting strategies in place around the world. It is common to see different level of protection and development control in greenbelts depending on the local context. HRM currently has a sophisticated system of growth control, including a service boundary, subdivision regulations, limits on the construction of new roads, development charges and a world class open space network envied by other cities. RP+5 provides an opportunity to increase public awareness about the importance of HRM’s natural assets.

What have been the early successes of the Regional Plan with respect to maintaining or increasing the amount of green and open space in HRM?

Since the adoption of the 2006 Regional Plan, HRM – in collaboration with the Province and private entities - has advanced several open and green space projects, including: link to each
Minimum 10% park dedication requirement for subdivisions larger than 3 lots
• Master Plans for the Western Commons, Dartmouth Common and Halifax North Common
Urban Forest Master Plan approved
Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park
• Watershed studies (seven completed or underway)
• Cole Harbour Basin Vision
Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area (established by the Province)

What is the Our HRM Alliance greenbelting proposal?
Our HRM Alliance has done a great deal to inform and engage the community on the benefits of greenbelting. The proposal actually closely mirrors the Regional Plan’s current land use designations, although subtle differences exist. At the December 12 CDAC meeting HRM staff will respond to community input by presenting an approach to greenbelting that can work with and enhance the Regional Plan’s policy framework.

What will happen at the CDAC meeting on December 12th, 2012?

At the upcoming meeting of the Community Design Advisory Committee (CDAC) HRM staff will recommend that RP+5 adopt the greenbelting terminology as an organizing concept for open space planning and community design. It should be noted that the term would not have legal meaning, but rather would be used to recognize HRM’s intention to maintain and enhance a diverse and integrated regional network of natural and cultural areas, parks, streets and trails. Staff will also recommend that a Greenbelting Strategy be developed following RP+5 to shape open space planning, strategic acquisition of lands and community planning. This recommendation will be discussed by the Committee. Other policies would propose stronger protections for forested areas near waterways, revised rural subdivision standards, clearer rules on expanding the urban service boundary, and more emphasis on active transportation. (Staff report to CDAC)

Why is there still large scale development happening in suburban and rural areas of HRM? Why isn’t HRM limiting this type of growth?

When the Regional Plan was adopted by Council in 2006, there were already a number of approved large scale developments in rural areas of HRM. These projects were able to proceed under the development rules in place prior to Regional Plan’s approval. In addition, other growth areas were identified in the Regional Plan such as Bedford South, Morris-Russell Lake and Bedford West given their proximity to existing municipal services.

Why were the Regional Plan growth targets not met in the first five years?

The Regional Plan set out 25-year growth targets of 25% in the urban area, 50% in suburban areas and 25% in rural areas. In the first five years of the plan urban growth accounted for 16% of the total. The Plan is working, but development patterns require time to adjust to new policies and regulations.

The Regional Plan is a 25-year vision for the city and we are currently only six years into the implementation process. A great deal of effort has gone into developing policies that will create the kind of complete, vibrant, mixed-use neighbourhoods desired by citizens including access to clean, safe drinking water and other important municipal services. The Regional Plan is designed to avoid development mistakes from the past recurring in the future.

For more information on the current Regional Plan 5-Year Review (RP+5) visit www.halifax.ca/planhrm/RP5.php, follow @PlanHRM on Twitter or visit www.facebook.com/PlanHRM.