Nova Scotia

Downtown Dartmouth getting 26-storey tower in post office heritage project

A heritage building in downtown Dartmouth will be the site of a new high-rise development, which one councillor says is a “thoughtful design” that protects local history while creating housing.

The Harbour East-Marine Drive community council approved a heritage development agreement for the project May 2.

The former Dartmouth post office on Queen Street is being renovated and turned into commercial space that connects to the new residential development. Its annex from the 1960s will become townhouses, and a 26-storey tower will go on the parking lot beside the post office on the corner of King Street. The project will create 142 housing units.

“It’s one of the best ones in my opinion that I think I’ve seen in seven years on council,” Coun. Sam Austin, community council chair, said during the meeting.

The old post office is a sandstone building built in 1914 by John Ewart, chief architect of the Department of Public Works, according to a staff report.

Darren Fransen of RHAD Architects, the Dartmouth-based firm that designed the project, said they decided to keep the tower tall and narrow to minimize shadows rather than spreading it out over top of the post office.

A rendering of the future development called The Post, seen from the corner of Queen and Wentworth streets, shows the former post office heritage building and public space. (RHAD Architects)

The new building will also be positioned in line with the post office, allowing for public space along Queen Street with landscaping, seating, and artwork. There are also setbacks on the upper floors of the tower, and an overhang to help address wind.

“There’s a lot of smaller pieces to kind of mimic what’s happening in downtown Dartmouth. You’re not seeing large, big-box forms,” Fransen said about the street-level design.

Developer Jim Lawley of Halkirk Properties Inc., is behind the project, which also restored Keith Hall at the Alexander Keith’s Brewery site.

Austin said when he suggested the post office for a heritage designation in 2020, he assumed any development on the site would maximize the entire lot and leave no public spaces.

A black and white photo shows the stone post office with its original four-sided clock tower
The original Dartmouth Post Office, built in 1914 on Queen Street. The heritage building is being renovated and will become a commercial space connected to the larger residential development beside it. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

“What instead has come back is one of the most thoughtful design solutions I’ve seen in a long time where the post office is being left as it is,” Austin said.

“It gets to be itself for future generations.”

The site’s First World War memorial will be refurbished and integrated into the development, while two clock faces from the post office’s original tower will be brought back to working order and installed on the Wentworth Street corner.

Coun. Becky Kent said she was pleasantly surprised to see how much the design honours local history.

“That approach is unusual and it’s worth noting,” Kent said. “I think that this is a change-maker.”

When asked about affordability, Fransen said they have designed “micro units” in the development that could be priced cheaper than others, but he did not know what pricing would be yet.

In this computer image people walk along a wide sidewalk with trees and benches alongside the building
A rendering of the future development called The Post, seen from the corner of King and Queen streets, shows the bottom of the 26-storey tower and public space with artwork. (RHAD Architects)

The project falls under the city’s density bonusing program, where developers get extra size or height in exchange for paying fees that go into a fund for non-profit housing organizations. But, because it’s a heritage development, staff said 90 per cent of that fee went to restoring the post office and 10 per cent to the housing fund.

Nearby residents raised traffic concerns at the public hearing before the meeting, saying the 64 underground parking spots likely won’t be enough and will worsen the neighbourhood street parking situation.

Municipal staff said a traffic impact study did not raise major issues, and the expectation is many people living in the development won’t need a car because it’s walking distance to shops, restaurants, bus routes and the Alderney ferry terminal.

Construction is expected to take two and a half years.

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