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Resident says Halifax council to blame for 'irresponsible' handling of Bloomfield site

A photo of the old Bloomfield school site on Agricola Street taken by Halifax bylaw staff this week shows boarded up and broken windows, and areas where bricks have fallen from the building. (HRM - image credit)
A photo of the old Bloomfield school site on Agricola Street taken by Halifax bylaw staff this week shows boarded up and broken windows, and areas where bricks have fallen from the building. (HRM - image credit)

A Halifax woman who spent years advocating for the redevelopment of the Bloomfield site says while she's frustrated to see more delays, the city's "irresponsible" actions have created the current situation.

Susanna Fuller lives near the former north-end school and community hub, and said "it breaks my heart" to see the site deteriorate through vandalism and neglect.

On Thursday, property owner Alex Halef told a Halifax committee he has "no timeline" for demolishing the old buildings and creating a new development because he doesn't have the finances. Halef bought the property from the Halifax Regional Municipality in 2021.

"The city could have done so much more … in the last sale. Just like put very specific conditions, and if those conditions are not met, the sale is null and void, right. There's no reason why that couldn't have happened," Fuller said Friday.

Mark Crosby/CBC
Mark Crosby/CBC

"The execution of it has just been so awful and quite frankly irresponsible by HRM."

Any development that goes into the site is required to include certain features from the Bloomfield master plan, such as affordable housing, open areas and community space. That plan came from years of work from Fuller and others in a citizen's group called Imagine Bloomfield.

But Fuller said any chance the historic Fielding Building on the site could be repurposed within the new project is essentially gone because rain has come through its broken windows and it also had a small fire.

Although Fuller said their group tried to work with city planners and councillors back in 2020 when HRM was considering the private sale, their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Looking at the current trend of Canadian cities repurposing old public sites for vibrant developments like cSpace in Calgary or Regent Park in Toronto, Fuller said it's hard to believe that Halifax "had it and threw it away."

No policies to 'compel' development to move along: city

Halifax municipal spokesperson Laura Wright said in an email Friday that the city has not received an application for a Bloomfield development agreement from Halef.

"We aren't privy to the developer's plans or associated timelines for application and construction at this time," Wright said.

Although Wright said there were "construction timeline incentives" built into the property transaction, there is nothing within planning or land use bylaws "that would compel a development agreement to be in effect within a certain timeframe."

On Thursday, councillors at the city's appeal committee denied three of the four appeals Halef had made to overturn orders to fix dangerous and unsightly issues on the property. Councillors decided graffiti can remain on the buildings, but Halef has 60 days to address garbage, fencing and broken windows.

Area councillor Lindell Smith said he is "disappointed" to see Halef's lack of plans, and the committee urged Halef to improve safety on the site.

While Fuller said she agreed that the developer should be installing better fencing and boarding the windows so people are "more deterred" from breaking in, she would have preferred to see this level of concern earlier.

"Councillors are finally interested like when it's a disaster — when it was up to the councillors to make the right decision about the property in the first place — really just kind of blows my mind," Fuller said.

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