Finally some progress for Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park (probably)


Last week, Halifax Regional Council approved a motion that appears to trigger the first land purchase for the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park. If so, that’s probably good news. The City has been struggling to acquire lands for the regional park since the original HRM Regional Plan was approved in 2006.

The details of the supposed land purchase have not yet been made public. Property matters at City Hall are usually discussed In Camera, as was the case for this land purchase as well.

But, there are clues contained in the public motion that was approved by Regional Council that offer a glimpse into the potential significance of this pending land purchase.

That motion states:

16.2.2 Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park
Update and Proposed Land Acquisition – Private and Confidential Report

That Halifax Regional Council:
1. Authorize the Mayor and Clerk to enter into an Agreement of Purchase and Sale as per the key terms and conditions outlined in Table 1 of the private and confidential report dated November 21, 2017, and as per the Financial Implications section of the private and confidential report dated November 21, 2017;
2. Direct staff to undertake consultation with the Province and Public with regard to the parkland planning for the acquired lands; and
3. Direct staff to continue to implement the plan for future acquisitions of other lands within the Blue Mountain Birch – (sic) Cove Lakes Wilderness Park boundary as outlined in the Discussion section of the private and confidential report dated November 21, 2017.
4. It is further recommended that the private and confidential report dated November 21, 2017 not be released to the public.

This motion implies that the City has reached agreement on a land purchase with at least one landowner, and that work will continue on future land acquisitions.

Of course, this could be a very small property, or a tiny portion of a larger property, rather than a substantial land purchase on its own. But, I don’t think that’s the case.  The second portion of the approved motion indicates that a consultation with the Province and the public will be initiated as a result of the pending land purchase. For me, that implies this is an important land purchase, and potentially a sizeable one, that will require additional planning for access and use. If it was a small, or insignificant property, there would be no real need for additional land-use planning. The City acquires land frequently, for all sorts of different reasons, without initiating follow up consultations with another level of government. So, it appears to me that this is indeed a significant land purchase for the regional park, and hopefully the start of a suite of additional land purchases that will finally make the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park a reality.

I have a hunch as to which specific property is likely being acquiring, and I’ve written about that previously in this article (Step #3), where I encourage the City to work with willing landowners on the land purchases, but I’m not going to speculate here.

The other reason why I think this is likely a good land purchase for the park – and I say this with all seriousness – Councillor David Hendsbee voted against it, while all of the other councilors voted for it. Why do I say that? Because last year when the City was debating a development proposal for the Birch Cove Lakes area, and things were very tense, Councillor Hendsbee (along with Councillor Gloria McCluskey) voted against a motion that was intended to halt secondary planning for that area. They were the only councillors who were grossly out-of-step with public opinion on that critical day last year (Sept 6, 2016) and on the wrong side of history for the park, if I might add. So, for the recent motion at Regional Council last week, I'd be more concerned if suddenly Councillor Hendsbee thought this was a good land purchase, given his past opposition. Of course, we’ll have to wait-and-see to know for sure, but I think real progress has been made toward the regional park and I look forward to seeing the details of the land purchase as soon as they are made public.

The provincial government has protected almost all of the public lands in the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, and now it appears likely that the City has finally secured its first significant land purchase for the adjacent regional park too. If so, this is good for our city, and for all the people who live here and use these near-urban wilderness lands. Hopefully this is the start of more to come.

Stay tuned.

~Chris Miller