Residents of Upper Hammonds Plains say zoning changes allow for growth “on our terms.”

Residents of the Upper Hammonds Plains say the latest zoning changes will help halt the “gentrification” of their historic African community in Nova Scotia as they plan for the future.

Last month, Halifax Regional Council approved changes to tighten the area’s zoning laws – which had not been changed since the 1980s – after years of community pressure.

Dozens of people filled the gallery at City Hall during a January public hearing on the changes. Many said that while the loose zoning was initially helpful in allowing local businesses to thrive, it has led to a “wild west of development.”

“We don’t want to stop development, we want to have a little say,” Gina Jones-Wilson, president of the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Development Association, said at the hearing.

Halifax Regional Municipality/YouTube

Halifax Regional Municipality/YouTube

The old Halifax Regional Municipality rules allowed homes and industrial businesses such as auto salvage yards to go through the as-of-right process adjacent to private homes, meaning a property owner could build at any time with very few restrictions and no public participation.

Tyler Simms was among many at the hearing who said they were concerned for the safety of their children along the main Pockwock Road.

“They can tell you the stories of big equipment, dump trucks and tradesmen racing towards these developments while going to and from the bus stop, almost forcing them into the ditch,” Simms said.

Jones-Wilson said developers only recently turned their attention to Upper Hammonds Plains, but when they did, they “just went nuts.”

Due to the new changes in land use, large commercial enterprises and apartment buildings are only permitted by building contract, and even then the residential buildings can only be up to three stories high.

These agreements require developers to submit plans to the city and conduct environmental impact assessments and transportation studies. New landfills and hazardous waste sites are now completely banned.

As notices went out about the proposed changes, Jones-Wilson said she saw a social media post from someone who said, “The honeypot is preparing to close, get your approvals now.”

City planner Maureen Ryan told the council that hundreds of applications for development and building permits have been received since HRM reported the changes. The city hasn’t taken any interim action, Ryan said, so all will go through – which would result in 746 new units.

Ryan said this is “significant” growth as there are currently only 2,400 homes in the area.



Resident Kesa Munroe-Anderson said she was “heartbroken” to see such a scale of development slip under the wire.

“I am deeply disappointed that HRM has not yet found a way to protect and protect African Nazi communities,” Munroe-Anderson said

“I can’t help but connect the dots of what’s happening with the past, as the injustices at hand have an eerie throwback to Africville’s history – but in a neo-colonial way. Bulldozers were replaced by the mighty dollar, the power and privilege of developers.”

Black residents own 38% of the land

In January, city officials said only 38 percent of lands in the Upper Hammonds Plains were owned by African Nova Scotians.

That number was once much higher when the community was founded in 1815 by black refugees from the United States. They came to the area as freed slaves after the War of 1812 and were given lands in the area, according to a staff account.

“Essentially, gentrification is happening, even though it’s happening far from the urban center… It’s displacing people, right, and driving up a lot of prices,” said community attorney Curtis Whiley, whose family descends from those early black settlers.



Some developers opposed the changes at the public hearing, saying density is needed for people to continue living in the area they grew up in.

A retired Dalhousie University architecture and planning professor, Tom Emodi, warned that such strict zoning would devalue the land. He said doing so would have “unintended consequences” that would run counter to the community’s plans for a vibrant future with more services, such as sidewalks and new schools.

Whiley said such comments are “deaf” as residents are acutely aware of the impact of these changes – which are temporary anyway.

“Our community is already alive and always has been… the community must come first and present their vision first, our vision first. And then developers can figure out how to contribute — not developers leading the way,” Whilei said.

“Development will happen on our terms.”



Whiley said residents look forward to working with HRM on a community action plan to see how the area will grow in the years to come.

He hopes a project he is involved with, the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Land Trust, can play a big part. Eventually, the Trust would like to acquire land for community-owned affordable housing.

“I just feel like for our African community in Nova Scotian, sometimes it feels like we can’t make a difference, like we can’t make these big changes that we need,” Whiley said.

“It took us over two years to navigate [this] Procedure. But it really electrified us and really brought us together.”

The Regional Council is considering funding to implement the action plan and hiring three new staff members to undertake similar planning with all of Halifax’s Nova Scotian African communities in this year’s budget. These points will be decided at the end of March.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians—from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community—see Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians should be proud of. You can read more stories here.





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