Right thing, wrong place

There better be free parking at this new outpatient clinic in Bayers Lake or one of main reasons for putting it there is bogus.
It’s great that the Nova Scotia Liberal government is trying to make health care more accessible for those living outside the city centre. But why do it at the cost of valuable greenspace?
Easing traffic and parking hassles for patients and their families is a wonderful goal. But just because those are the stated reasons for putting an outpatient clinic on the old Whopper Dropper site in the Bayers Lake Industrial Park doesn’t mean that’s how it will pan out.
According to a report in The Coast, the province considered three other sites: one on the Mainland North Common, one in Bedford South, and the old Rona location at the other end of Bayers Lake Industrial Park (BLIP).
The province never sought advice from city planners, but instead asked for “highlevel feedback.” Reportedly, Halifax planners considered the Mainland North Common the best location because of its proximity to the Lacewood bus terminal. The Bedford site was the runner-up while the two BLIP sites finished in a tie for last.
The Whopper Dropper site makes the least sense. The Rona site, for example, is already developed. Why not begin to build in an already high-traffic zone in the park? Or at the very least, build in a way that would avoid compromising park space? After all, greenspaces help promote healthy lifestyles and attract tourists.
The Whopper Dropper property already has a rich history of mismanagement and bureaucratic incompetency. It was once part of the Blue Mountain Birch Regional Park lands. Halifax committed to creating the park more than a decade ago as part of its 2006 Regional Plan.
Even though the city has struggled to purchase land for the park, it sold this 74 hectares of land to the Banc Group in 2013 and used the money to pay for the controversial Washmill Lake overpass, which went $11 million over budget.
In May 2015, Banc clear-cut the land and it looked like a scene from The Lorax. People who fought to save that land shed a tear as they knew it was unlikely to be included as part of the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park. They then bought back fractions of the land. Purchase price for Banc from city: $127,000 per hectare; selling price for Banc to province just four years later: $1.25 million per hectare.
Clearly, the Department of Common Sense and Consistency didn’t vet these decisions.
The land the city sold to Banc Properties lies just south of Susies Lake, one of the pearls in the Birch Cove Lakes chain. It could still become Canada’s finest urban wilderness park, but it’s in jeopardy.
This whole snafu is a perfect example of patchwork decision making; the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
The province, not the city, has stepped up to provide land to push the promised Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park closer to reality. It has given wilderness protection to 1,767 hectares of Crown land.
The remainder of the 569 hectares of land within the proposed park boundary is privately owned. Do the people who work for the Department of Health and Wellness not realize what the province was trying to do by giving wilderness protection to all that land?
Until this spring, Banc has had trouble selling or developing the Whopper Dropper land, and I had hoped that the city might buy at least some of it back to protect the Birch Cove Lakes chain. Instead, it’ll be developed for the new outpatient clinic. And that will make the surrounding land more attractive for developers.
You always see a cluster of health-care enterprises such as drug stores and physiotherapy clinics around hospitals. There is nothing wrong these things, but when you can locate them elsewhere, do it.
The proposed Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park would promote more active living and allow people to get out into nature. This would go a ways in changing a system that focusses on curing sickness and disease instead of promoting a healthy lifestyle. It’s time we start looking at what the right hand is up to and begin taking a more thoughtful approach to planning and development.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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