District 6 candidates address issues facing region's largest business park
The Burnside News speaks to candidates seeking to represent Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East
The upcoming municipal election is an excellent time to re-examine some of the ongoing challenges facing the Burnside Business Park. For that reason, The Burnside News has approached the candidates running in District 6: Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East to find out their positions on several of the biggest questions facing Burnside's future. Presented here are their verbatim answers.
Burnside News: Transit is continuously named as the top issue facing businesses in Burnside today. Please describe your position on the expansion of transit services in Burnside and whether you support the original plan of a terminal for the Park or the proposed route changes, and why.
David Boyd: I feel we need improved transit in the Park. The five-year strategic plan is a good step forward. I would like to see a storefront solution. We could set up a privately owned, inter-modal transit terminal. My idea for an inter-modal transit terminal would be a storefront space similar to the current Acadian Lines Terminal using a standard retail unit. The interior would have a lounge/waiting area (seating, payphones, washrooms, Wi-Fi, etc.). The outside would have bike lockers, two reserved parking spaces for local taxis (i.e. Bobs, Yellow Cab, etc.) and one reserved space for regional shuttle vans (i.e. Scotia Shuttle, McLeod's Glace Bay) and a Metro Transit bus bay with outside seating. This terminal would become a major hub and focal point of the park to the region. A fee for advertising space and parking meters would cover the maintenance costs. I would like to see more routes servicing the Park and a Metro-X route connecting Cobequid Terminal, Fall River Park & Ride, Burnside and the Dartmouth Bridge Terminal. I would like to see a free Dartmouth Crossing/Burnside shuttle that would go to/from MicMac Mall, like the old FRED service downtown. I am for transit expansion in the Park.
Darren Fisher: It's extremely important to Burnside to have strong transit service so that staff can get in and out of the Park relatively easily. I will sit down and speak with Metro Transit about ways to accomplish this, but as far as I know, the terminal plan is not off the table at this time.
Jerry Pye: I am shocked at the flagrant disregard Metro Transit and HRM Council have displayed on a key local transportation issue. Burnside is an industrial hub that contributes significant revenues to the city and the local economy, it deserves better. Metro Transit's decision to not locate a terminal and or provide additional routes to the Park, given the planned expansion and future construction of the Burnside Expressway, defies all logic. I am committed to ensuring that better public transit is a priority not only for Burnside, but also throughout the HRM. But lets be clear, there will be no fundamental change in transportation policy in HRM until we recognize that we are a municipality of almost 500,000 people living in a close urban environment and in need of a transportation authority. A properly empowered transportation authority can rid of us the shortsighted adhocracy now passing as transportation policy in HRM. However, policy is not simply enough; better transportation routes, a joint city-employer funded transit pass to encourage employees to take the bus, and a clear and defined strategy for the future will help us all enjoy a greener and more effective transit system.
BN: Security has always been a prime concern for Burnside companies, especially since the Park is largely empty during evening and weekend hours. Please describe your current level of knowledge of, and engagement with, the Burnside Watch and how you would go about expanding that relationship and supporting the Watch.
DB: I am aware of the Burnside Watch as I used to own a small computer sales company in the Park. I would like to help expand the relationship and volunteer my time to the program and help use my influence as a councillor to help the program continue and get support from HRM and the business community.
DF: The Burnside Watch is an amazing program, and if I were councilor for the district, my first action would be to arrange a drive-along with Watch members so I can see what they go through and how I might be able to help. I would check the criteria on funding to see if there are ways we can support what the Watch does.
JP: I was a member of Dartmouth City Council and the Dartmouth Police Commission back in 1992 when Burnside Watch was introduced. The HRM police have continued with the Watch and are very much aware of the money saved by local businesses in insurance costs, through the efforts of volunteer staff over the decades. Expanding this program is a necessity as the Park grows, and maintaining the high caliber volunteer training provided by the HRM Police Service is also extremely important. Creating incentives for businesses and employees to participate is one way to improve on the existing model. Perhaps a tax break for businesses who provide equipment, or for employees who donate their time as volunteers might be one incentive to encourage cooperation and participation in the watch. Whatever the agreed solution, I will continue to support the Burnside Watch in the same manner as when I was an MLA, by meeting with representatives from the HRM Policing Service on a monthly basis and keeping up to date on issues relating to Burnside.
BN: The provincial government has committed to begin work on the long awaited Burnside Expressway between the Park and Bedford/Sackville during this construction season. Please describe the municipality's role in the Expressway, when construction on its portion is scheduled to begin, and what role you can play in ensuring the project stays on track.
DB: I support the businesses of HRM and the people who run them. There are no easy answers, but I would ask the businesses who would be directly involved with the Bedford/Sackville Expressway, "How would you get this done if you were given the power?" I'm sure some of the people have good, real plans that we the government could look at and implement.
DF: I sit on the Transportation Standing Committee, so I can tell you that the project is all on schedule. The committee gets regular updates and I will stay on top of this project, which will give more than 15,000 commuters another way into the Park. Our portion of the project includes the active transportation path, which we believe will lead to an amazing uptake in active transportation to and from the Park because Burnside will now be a short five-kilometre bike ride away.
JP: In all likelihood communications have already started on the municipality's role and responsibility regarding the construction. Key to the municipality's responsibility would be to ensure their contract is in sync with the necessary timelines placed to ensure a fully completed expressway as soon as the province has finished its portion. It's reasonable to assume HRM has already budgeted its share of the construction cost. As many in the Burnside Community already know, I am committed to ensuring the success of the Burnside expressway. I will offer to provide monthly updates on progress and will ensure there is minimal impact on local businesses as the construction takes place. I would consider it a highlight to be a member of Halifax Regional Council when the Burnside Expressway is officially opened.
BN: There are currently two proposed projects under development, one along Windmill Road and one as part of Dartmouth Crossing, which would incorporate residential units into Burnside. Please describe whether you are in favour or opposed to residential development within a business park and how you see any potential conflicts between residential use and industrial park tenants being resolved.
DB: More study has to be given to this area. I would be in favor of setting up a committee composed of business owners, developers, and local citizens and possibly bring in leaders from other areas where this has already taken place. Pollution and green space as buffering would be the primary concerns of a mixed residential-industrial strategy.
DF: The Regional Development Plan speaks to 'work where you live and live where you work', and I believe this is a good idea. However, we have to ensure we deal with any conflicts of usage. It's good to have residential uses buffering the Park, but we need to make sure all potential residents understand where they're moving into. A business park and residential development can co-exist as long as there's good buffering. I also look forward to meeting with the GBBA and discussing the concerns I know they have on this subject.
JP: Residential development should be restricted if not totally avoided in proximity to industrial operations. Developers, property owners and residents need to have a clear appreciation of the industrial activity associated with these types of parks, such as obnoxious use, chemical facilities, noise generation and hours of operation. Back in the '90s while serving on Dartmouth City Council, I had a conversation with Dr. Gill Grant of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design-Environmental Planning on the issue of residential development within the boundaries of the Burnside Business Park. The general consensus was that having some modest residential areas in and around the park allowed employees working in the area to live nearby and walk to their place of employment. Having this in Burnside today would need greater planning and a more sophisticated model for future park development. In all, Burnside is a business/industrial park and should remain as such.
BN: The Greater Burnside Business Association is a volunteer organization started to give businesses in the Park a voice, both in terms of networking with each other and in dealing with municipal council on issues affecting the Park. Please describe your current level of knowledge of, and engagement with, the GBBA and how you would go about expanding that relationship and representing Burnside's concerns on council.
DB: I have brief knowledge of the GBBA. Over the course of my campaign I hope to become more educated about the GBBA. Once I get more information on various groups and volunteer organizations in the district, I would like to bring their concerns forward to council, as well as other organizations in my district.
DF: I look forward to working with the GBBA to support the businesses of the area.
JP: When I was first elected to municipal government I served on the Burnside Industrial Commission, later to become the Burnside Industrial/Business Park Association and now the Greater Burnside Business Association. Each of the volunteer organizations played a significant role in advocating issues germane to the Burnside Business/Industrial Park. The GBBA's promotion and support of Burnside has not gone unnoticed by this candidate. In written articles to this newspaper, readers will note that I have been at odds with the GBBA on matters specifically related to Burnside. Nonetheless, let it be known that I support the good work done by the GBBA, even though we had different opinions on some past issues and will likely differ on issues in the future. It is the responsibility of this elected official to serve all citizens, not just the special interest or those that have affluence, which often equates to influence. If elected I will continue to serve the citizenry in accordance to past practices.
BN: The GBBA, being a volunteer organization, has struggled over the years to find adequate funding to carry out some of its activities. Please describe whether you would support or discourage the formation of a Burnside Business Improvement District (BID) and why.
DB: Vince Lombardi said, "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined efforts of each individual." I would support any effort to address and create resources for the community. It may or may not be a BID; I would need to study all the suggestions and support what is best for the community.
DF: That's up to the businesses in the Park. If they vote 50 +1 in favour of a BID, then I would support that. It has certainly worked well for the Main Street Business Improvement District.
JP: This issue has been a long time in the making. I recall reading about this subject in the Burnside News. I think it was 1989 during a Dartmouth City Council debate, I expressed concern about setting an area rate for the Downtown Business Community and the effect this rate might have on the continued growth of the Burnside community (see council minutes). In the end, I supported the area rate for the Downtown Business District and advised the Burnside volunteer association to request the same. Indeed I support the formation of a Burnside Business Improvement District. The hiring of an executive director, staff and a few researchers will greatly enhance the future direction of the Burnside community. All I ask is for the GBBA to draft a proposal and, if elected, they have my assurance I will bring it before the HRM Council.
BN: HRM is currently in the middle of a five-year review of its Regional Development Plan. Please describe how you would go about addressing the issue of future park development as part of the Regional Development Plan.
DB: I have been speaking with many of the business owners in HRM about an industrial strategy. Many of them have said they would gladly volunteer time to a committee that they felt would finally listen to common sense and follow through on good ideas. My strategy is to form this volunteer committee, listen to their ideas and follow through with the best ones.
DF: I would need to do some further research on the Burnside functional plan to see where we are and how it can be moved forward.
JP: I believe there was an initial meeting with HRM Planning and the GBBA in June 2011 where discussions were held on the Burnside Functional Plan and land uses. The immediate action would be to meet with Planning staff and request that planning initiate discussion with the GBBA and hold public consultation meetings on the five-year functional plan. The five-year plan must provide a picture of where the municipality thinks industrial/business park activity will be headed in the future. Specifically, where will future industrial, business, commercial, residential and green spaces (environmental) zones be located within the Burnside community.
BN: Downtown business commissions in both Halifax and Dartmouth continue to point to the area's business parks as a threat to their vibrancy. Please describe where you stand on this issue and how you would work to reform the municipal taxation system.
DB: It would be my job to speak to every level of government and business to get the best action plan together for this project.
DF: If you ask a business owner in Burnside, they'll say they're overtaxed too. No one thinks they're fairly taxed, but council has said emphatically... we will find some common ground so we can solve some of these tax issues.
JP: I can remember when downtown Dartmouth had a grocery store, and old enough to have witnessed the outbound drive of commercial businesses from the downtown cores of both Halifax and Dartmouth. One would have to be living on another planet to suggest there is no threat to cities' downtown vibrancy because of taxation. While there may be validity in pointing to unfair taxation, it is also fair to have a review of taxation policies. In June of 2009 the HRM Tax Reform Committee presented its report to council. One would have to read the council minutes to evaluate why this council has not adopted the report. However, it is my opinion that much of the debate of the report centered on the negative aspects of the residential taxation recommendations. HRM's tax policy is in need of review. Further, the implementation of a taxing policy within the commercial sector that benefits both commercial businesses in the downtown cities, business parks and surroundings is achievable. The reform of municipal taxation can only be effective after much consultation.
BN: Either the municipality or the province owns almost all of the business parks in HRM. However, some privately owned business parks have been developed over the past few years. Given this new trend, is it time for HRM to get out of the business of running parks for retail and office space uses, and concentrate exclusively on maintaining access to lands zoned for industrial uses – something that was talked about in the Burnside functional plan?
DB: I support common sense government with rational solutions. The people know what is to be done with their money. Business knows what makes money and what does not. Let the people have the say in what is a priority and what isn't. After all, it's the people's money.
DF: I would be very surprised if the city ever considered getting out of business parks, especially Burnside, which has been very successful at generating significant tax revenues – maybe as much as downtown. I can't ever see the city letting the parks go into someone else's hands.
JP: I prefer to wait until I have heard from the stakeholders. However, I do support the municipality and the province continuing to own developable land, control land uses and be instrumental in directing future industrial/commercial growth for the betterment of their respective interests.