Frankenstein may have had an easier time bringing life to his creation than Stephanie Stoker has had bringing life to an empty corner of Georgestown in St. John’s.
“When we started working on this idea, we had an inkling that there may be some resistance. We did not go into this thinking it would be easy – but no, we did not think it would go to Supreme Court. Who would?” says Stoker.
Seriously, who would? But Stoker’s plan to put a new café at 73 Hayward Avenue across from Georgestown Bakery, where God’s Great Bagels come from, was met with intense opposition from one neighbourhood couple. Georgestown Café and Bookshelf would require four parking spots under city bylaws, but the city approved the proposal knowing there was only one. The city was satisfied with Stoker’s submission that most customers would come by foot – shocking as that may be in this driving-dominant city – and that people would be able to find enough parking nearby.
But a couple living nearby, Janet McNaughton and Michael Wallack, were not so satisfied with Stoker’s submission. They say more visitors, more traffic, and more cars will mean more headaches for people in the neighbourhood, and that it became an issue of principle, of the city ignoring its own bylaws. So the couple took the city to the Supreme Court.
“We feel that, regardless of some rumours, we did respond to the neighbourhood and what they were telling us – that they wanted a less car-dependent community and culture (as mirrored by the municipal plan which was created through feedback from the public as well),” says Stoker, a “townie” who feels “some have even called me a mainlander without regard for others” over the course of this battle.
In mid-March, Stoker’s little café-that-could won, a year after she first applied for it. The court ruled in favour of the city, so the café can forge ahead and McNaughton and Wallack say they accept the court’s decision, even if they don’t agree with it.
The ruling is a big moment in the progression of the city, moving towards more livable neighbourhoods where you can easily access the things you need – as per Envision, the city’s municipal plan Stoker mentioned. And it’s not just old St. John’s either, people in Kenmount Terrace – that sprawling suburbia of new homes and nothing else – have been crying out for the services they say they were promised, and the city is now starting to deliver. Hopefully a better public transit system to go along with such progression away from car-culture is next.
Stoker says she and her family are happy to build something in their neighbourhood for the future of their kids and community – and hopes others are encouraged to do the same. “I have the old maps, the stories, and have done the research – our neighbourhood was the first subdivision built in the early 1900s. It was filled with homes, shops, candy stores, barbers, garages, factories, and more. What we are doing is not new, or unheard of – we are not the first to open a small business in Georgestown that services those who live there, and I hope we will not be the last.”