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Legislative Amendments

Site Plan Approval and Density Bonusing

On Tuesday, May 7, 2013, the Province introduced and gave first and second reading to Bill 83, An Act to Amend Chapter 39 of the Acts of 2008, the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter. Bill 83 would enable HRM to expand the use site plan approval and density bonusing outside of downtown Halifax to the Regional Centre - Halifax Peninsula and Dartmouth inside the Circumferential Highway.

HRM's presentation to Law Amendments Committee, May 8, 2013 (PDF)

Density bonusing is a powerful urban planning tool for relieving tax payers from the burden of paying for a variety of public benefits (i.e. affordable housing, streetscape improvements, clean-up of contaminated sites, etc.) in exchange for increased development rights in some areas.

But it is also a new and somewhat complex tool, and is therefore easily misunderstood. See below for more information on density bonusing and HRM's legislative amendment request to the Province.

Density bonusing discussion on Information Morning (June 29/12)

HRM's April 23rd Letter to the Province (PDF)

  Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What is density bonusing?
  2. Will density bonusing allow buildings to be constructed above maximum heights set in the Land Use By-law?
  3. Will the public have opportunity(s) to comment on projects that enter the density bonusing program prior to their approval?
  4. Why does HRM need density bonusing outside of downtown Halifax?
 

1. What is density bonusing?

Density bonusing is a planning tool that allows a municipality to grant extra density (i.e. extra units or height) to a building in return for public benefits such as affordable housing, streetscaping, and green space. It’s a tool that would allow HRM to create the vibrant, complete, mixed-use neighbourhoods desired by its citizens. Currently density bonusing is only allowed in downtown Halifax as per the HRM Charter. HRM is requesting that the Legislature amend the Charter to extend the use of this tool to the Regional Centre - Halifax Peninsula and Dartmouth inside the Circumferential Highway.

HRM has already had success with density bonusing after three years of use in downtown Halifax. Of the eight projects currently approved under HRMbyDesign, three of them entered the density bonusing program:

  1. The Central Library was granted its bonus in exchange for the provision of signature public open space plazas.
  2. The TD Tower expansion was granted its bonus through the preservation of a heritage resource and the provision of exemplary sustainable building practices.
  3. The Mary-Ann site of the Clyde Street lots was granted a bonus through the provision of affordable housing.
 

2. Will density bonusing allow buildings to be constructed above maximum heights set in the Land Use By-law?

No. Density bonusing will not allow buildings to be built higher than maximum heights set in the land use by-law. Maximum heights are established with public consultation in each area of the municipality. Those heights would become the maximum heights that could be achieved through density bonusing; otherwise called post-bonus heights. Projects that do not offer a public benefit would be subject to a lower set of heights, referred to as pre-bonus heights. In either case the community would know the absolute maximum allowable heights, bonus or no bonus. The objective of this tool is that in order for any building to reach its full height it must make a positive contribution to the neighbourhood and the city.
 

3. Will the public have opportunity(s) to comment on projects that enter the density bonusing program prior to their approval?

Yes. As was the case with HRMbyDesign’s Downtown Halifax Plan, significant public consultation and community input on the pre and post bonus heights would occur during the development of the upcoming Regional Centre Plan, rather than on a case-by-case basis after the plan is in place. With the pre and post bonus heights already contained in the land use by-law, citizens would know the maximum height that could be achieved on each street and lot in their neighbourhood, either with or without a bonus.

Citizens are already being engaged through HRM’s Regional Plan 5 Year Review (RP+5) as well as through the upcoming Regional Centre Plan project, which will see planning strategies and land use by-laws developed for each area of the municipality. The development of these strategies and by-laws will include widespread public engagement and consultation to ensure residents’ views of their neighbourhood are enshrined in the final plan. The maximum allowable height is a key issue that will be established using input from residents during consultations.

For the Regional Centre Plan, discussions about the application of density bonusing will continue over the next three years as HRM works with the community to create the new Regional Centre Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-law.

 

4. Why does HRM need density bonusing outside of downtown Halifax?

There are several reasons why HRM requires the use of density bonusing in the Regional Centre:

a) Density bonusing is vital to allow HRM to grow sustainably. Creating more housing opportunities in the Regional Centre, which already has bought and paid for pipes, wires, sidewalks, park, schools, and services, is much cheaper than building new developments and recreating those same services in HRM’s outlying areas.

b) Density bonusing will allow HRM to create incentives for developers to build affordable housing units throughout the Regional Centre. Enabling density bonusing will allow HRM to accept the invitation from the NS Department of Community Services to partner on the provision on affordable housing. HRM’s role in this partnership is to use its land controls (i.e. density bonusing) to create incentives for the private sector to build affordable units.

c) Density bonusing would support our local environment and economy. It provides a financial incentive for developers to clean up brownfield sites (i.e. old gas stations) and build new projects on vacant lots. Regional Council approved a framework for redeveloping brownfields on March 27, 2012, by passing a motion that HRM’s density bonusing amendment be expedited to support the brownfields incentive work.