Spirit Place? How about Atheist Heights instead?

My netizen pal Angela Mombourquette makes a good case for the proposed seven story housing project that has stirred opposition in the otherwise low-rise, middle-income neighborhood where church elders want to build it.

Venerable St. John’s United Church, which currently occupies the lot at Windsor and North in a residential neighborhood of Halifax’s West End, has reached its best-before date. The congregation proposes to replace it with a building, called “Spirit Place,” that will house both a place of worship and an independent living facility for old people — all wrapped into a seven-storey structure. Furthermore, St. John’s specifically promotes Spirit Place as “an affirming, welcoming space [for] seniors of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community.”

The hitch? The neighborhood is zoned for 2-1/2-storey, one- and two-unit dwellings not exceeding 35 feet in height. Spirit Place weighs in at 65 units and 72 feet in height. It would turn this neighborhood…


…into this:


I have a vested interest in the issue, because my own part-time, low-rise abode sits just four short blocks away. I could conceivably be a resident someday, if the Ross Ferry wing of  Baddeck’s Alderwood Home wont take me in! Nevertheless, and notwithstanding Ange’s endorsement, I bristle at everything about the way the church folks are promoting this project.

The effort to wrap their quest for a very substantial variance in a holier-than-thou display of welcome to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered residents smacks of a diversionary tactic. The church elders are, in effect, starting a fire at one end of Main Street, so no one will notice them robbing a bank at the other.

Every apartment building in Nova Scotia welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered residents. That’s the law, which forbids landlords and land developers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Is there any evidence — a study, a survey, a public opinion poll, a rumor? — that old gay folks face discrimination in housing? If so, please bring it forth for public inspection and debate. Otherwise, please remove these red herrings from the path to a zoning hearing.

My suspicion deepens in light of the haste with which proponents of this housing development have cried homophobe at anyone who objects to the massive variance they seek. If Wal-Mart planned a seven-storey superstore at the same location, but offered to host a garden for endangered wildflowers at the rear of the parking lot, would we take seriously any attempt on the company’s part to paint opponents as anti-conservationist?

Mistrust festers further in light of the proponents’ churchy, Goody Two-Shoes language. There’s the name, for starters. While objectively no worse than once fashionable tropes like “Windsor Arms” or “Willow Manor,” the proposed moniker smells of daffy New-Age spiritualism. Speaking for myself, I’d rather move into a building called “Atheist Heights” or even “Homo Haven,” and I’d be mortified to put “Spirit Place” on my personal stationery.

In the same vein, a board member speaks not of planning the development, but of being called to build it. Called by God, one presumes, or at the very least, by the Still Small Voice. Great! Now anyone opposed to doubling the height restriction is not only homophobic but anti-God and perhaps a friend of Satan.

I remain undecided about this development. I see its size and height as big drawbacks, but they may be necessary to allow affordable housing. I wonder about parking. I dislike Halifax’s habit of fearing, then thwarting, every new development, but I bristle at the promoters’ patronizing dismissal of concerns about this one as mere “resistance to change.” I personally tend to seek out social settings featuring mixed incomes, backgrounds, ages, and sexual orientations, so I wonder at the wisdom of ghettoizing the elderly. Would the neighborhood be better off with a mixed-age apartment building?

I do agree with Ange on one point:

[W]ho has the most potential to be seriously awesome neighbours? Gay seniors, of course. Imagine the incredible dinner party circuit.

If any Spirit Place-supporting gay seniors are planning such a meal, I’m open to offers.