By Richard Bell
In a new push to ease HRM restrictions on rural development, the grassroots group Save Rural HRM has launched a lobbying campaign to overturn HRM’s current ban on building private roads. HRM Council adopted the ban on such roads as one method for achieving the goal of focusing development on the HRM core and reducing urban sprawl.
Save Rural HRM organizer Kim Young recognizes that the group is taking on an uphill struggle. “We don’t expect this one to be quick,” Young said. “We know that the planners don’t want any more development out here, that they want everything in the center. But there are a number of new Councillors, and we’re hoping they’ll be willing to look at things with new eyes.”
Young said that Save Rural HRM’s research showed that there were no such prohibitions on new private roads anywhere else in the province.
Councillor David Hendsbee is 100% behind Save Rural HRM’s call for more private roads. “I fought the ban on private roads in the Regional Plan+5,” Hendsbee said. “I said banning private roads was a diabolical scheme. Taking away all those development rights would create a nightmare issue.”
Young and Hendsbee strongly disagree that allowing more private roads would inevitably force HRM to eventually take over the care and maintenance of those roads.
“I would like the regulations to allow private roads under some permanent mechanism, like a homeowners association for lots on that road,” Young said. “It has to be set up legally so that if you sell, the next buyer is responsible.”
“There would be a road maintenance covenant attached to every deed in the association, so that you would know before you purchased what all of the ongoing costs would be, just like you know what the condo maintenance fees are when you buy a condo. There would be road standards for the developer, not as extensive as for paved public roads, but enough to guarantee safe access for emergency vehicles. There would be no burden going back to the taxpayers, who wouldn’t be paying for building the road or the upkeep.”
Hendsbee echoed Young’s call for making homeowners’ associations responsible. “When I was an MLA, we fought for changes to allow for private road ownership, to let property owners set their own local area rates for their roads,” Hendsbee said. “If it was done right, there would be no cost to the municipality when it comes to road maintenance. The threat of potential liability is just not the case.”
Hendsbee said that the group’s most likely opportunity for changing the ban would come up at the next periodic review of the Regional Plan. “I’m hoping that through that review, we can crack this nut and bring back private roads.”
The push for new private roads grows out of Save Rural HRM’s previous struggle with HRM’s sudden imposition in the spring of 2016 of a ban on developing any rural property without at least one hundred feet of frontage on a public road. City planners identified roughly 1,000 lots in this category. After extensive lobbying by Save Rural HRM and other rural landowners, Halifax City Council adopted a partial fix of the problem, grandfathering in about 100 lots that were located in areas where the city had “mistakenly” already allowed development on nearby lots without the required frontage.
“One of the things that isn’t sitting well with us is that the Council has left 900 lots without a fix,” Young said. “For those remaining lots, the planners are taking the position that they will deal with you on a lot-by-lot basis. They’re passing the burden on to the landowner. And people are getting frustrated; every time they go in to meet with the planning department, they’re running into more road blocks instead of solving the problem.”