Wednesday, April 13, 2005 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Council puts brakes on housing project

By AMY PUGSLEY FRASER / City Hall Reporter

Council halted plans Tuesday night for Lakeside-Timberlea to be the home of 20,000 future Haligonians.

"This is a very serious matter for my community," Coun. Reg Rankin (Timberlea-Prospect) told fellow councillors.

Council's decision came after a report from the provincial Environment Department said Nine Mile River, site of the Lakeside-Timberlea sewage treatment plant, can only handle the sewage outflow from the current 8,200 residents plus about 1,800 more.

The Lakeside-Timberlea plant was built in 1983 to accommodate 10,000 people but was designed to handle two expansions to service a total of 30,000.

But those expansions won't happen now because the river can't handle any more waste water.

"There is no more capacity in the river," Paul Dunphy, Halifax Regional Municipality's planning and development services director, told reporters outside the meeting.

Already, during the summer months, the river's water level is very low and the volume of effluent from the plant nearly equals the volume of water in the river, says a confidential staff report released to the public Tuesday.

Under provincial dilution guidelines adopted in 1992, the acceptable river water-to-effluent level is five to one.

"During the summer, we're seeing a ratio of one to one," Mr. Dunphy said.

"If that plant were to expand, then we would have more effluent in the river than there is actually water in the natural environment. And so that is what we, and the province, are trying to avoid here."

The municipality noticed only recently in detailed studies that the maximums were being reached. The studies were ordered because of applications for subdivision plans in the area.

The key developer affected by council's decision is Nine Mile River Investments Ltd. In 2001, the company received council's approval for a 220-hectare development near Highway 103 called Westgate.

The development, which was to be phased in over 10 years, included a plan for a signature 18-hole golf course, homes for 8,000 residents, a school and commercial buildings.

A development agreement is in place and detailed engineering plans for the first phase are before city staff.

All of the company's final-stage plans now before staff - which total 512 building lots to be built over the next seven years - can be handled by the current capacity of the plant, Mr. Dunphy said.

"We still have lots and lots of vacant land which has recently been approved for development," he said.

"So you're not going to see a fundamental shift in the market in the short term."

But because no new subdivision plans will be OK'd, 3,200 more housing units won't be approved, Mr. Rankin said.

That "very unpleasant" situation is going to cause an upheaval in his district, he said.

"There is going to be anxiety in the community in terms of the future and what the possibilities are with the vacant land."

The main players from Nine Mile River Investments - Larry Swinamer and Glen Dexter - could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Mr. Rankin said there may be a reason for that.

"They may not be having the best night," he said after the meeting.

Mr. Dunphy said all of the affected landowners in the area will be contacted starting today.

Staff will look into possible remedies for the sewage issue in the Lakeside-Timberlea area and get back to council by July.

Piping sewage to other locations - like the new Halifax sewage treatment plant - might be an option, Mr. Dunphy said.

"But clearly, there is only so much capacity in the Halifax plant," he said. "And we want to make sure before we add any additional lands to it that we've examined all of the implications."

Staff will also keep in mind the protection of the environment in coming up with possible solutions to the problem, Mr. Dunphy said.

"(The environment) is what started this whole ball rolling," he said. "And that will be fundamental to any recommendations that we make."

As recently as last year, Lakeside-Timberlea was targeted as one of the locations that could help accommodate the 100,000 people who are expected to move into metro Halifax over the next 25 years.

There is still room in other areas for that expected growth, Mr. Dunphy said.

Council has already directed staff to explore the Bedford West area, near Kearney Lake, as well as Bedford South and the Morris and Russell lakes area in Dartmouth, he said.