Notes from the Rafters: This Week’s City Council Meeting Recap

Public calls for committee members, leg-ups for Mad Catter Cafe, special considerations for "Special Meetings," special Agri-Labs, hot-topic hotels, and more.

Proclamations: Council is crowded with proclaimers today

Energy Efficiency week is September 24-30. The rep from NLPower apologized, “You all know summer’s over when I’m here.” There are tips on their website for how to conserve energy, but I will save you hundreds of dollars right now: fuzzy creature onesies are on sale for ~25$ at Urban Planet in the mall. They come in all ages. They are extremely warm. For $75, I have successfully gotten my entire household onboard with keeping the heat off for another month.

Mayor Fuzzy UniKitty, sporting the new energy efficient look of pure civil engagement, approves this column

Girl Guides have been guiding in NL for 100 years! Mayor Dan Breen greeted the guides cheerfully, but wished they had brought some cookies. What do Boy Scouts sell to support their troupes? I will sign my daughter up for Guides when they fundraise with caltrops. If they teach them to survive alone in the woods, they should teach them enough urban warfare to make it out to the woods alive when shit goes down.

Tree Day is September 26. Councillor Collins was given a flat of seedlings after council to look after for planting along the Ruby Line. It was a nice little small city moment.

Ethics By-Laws and Super-secret-special-meetings

Council now has a Draft Code of Ethics By-law. Shout out to ex-Cllr Hann for championing this a few years ago to get it going.

 Cllr Burton raised a question about Section 70/71 on “special meetings:” does it apply to affiliated groups like the Transportation Commission? “Special Meetings,” aside from having the most wonderfully nefarious name possible, refer to council meetings that are not open to the public, and whose minutes are not available to the public.

Section 70 outlines specific reasons such a meeting can be held (e.g security reasons, or private/personal personnel matters, ongoing litigation etc). Section 71 states that if there is a dispute about whether something merits a “Special” meeting, council will vote on it at a “Special” meeting and if it is, indeed, voted “Special”-worthy than that vote and the specific reason, as per section 70, will be published in the public council meeting agenda.

 Basically, if anyone on council feels something should be public, we will at least know that someone thought something should be public, even if we never find out what it was.

But Cllr. Burton is asking, specifically, how these by-laws apply to other committees, like the SJ Transportation Commission or St. John’s Sports and Entertainment.

Legal staff clarified that only Council is entitled to have “Special” meetings. But Cllr Collins said that the Transportation Commission does have “in camera” (private, not accessible to the public, “board only”) meetings. So, if they don’t have to follow the “Special” meetings by-laws, but they do have “in camera” meetings, what rules do these private meetings of public commissions have to follow? Excellent question.

Cllr. Burton requested that legal staff “have a further look” at this issue to see how council could amend the new Code of Ethics in the future to codify how these affiliated committee meetings are handled.

 I am going to say this again: Excellent. Question. Council is blamed for everything, but much of public outcry (well, legitimate public outcry, not troll-cry) ends up circling around issues that are mostly handled by these commissions/committees … think “Mile One.” How transparency/opacity is handled in these city affiliated groups should be clear, even if the meetings themselves are not.

Misc from The Committe of the Whole: Sound Systems, Tweets, Trees, and Tabbies.

Speaking of transparency, Council approved the idea of a city FB page run by current marketing and communications staff. This will focus on (non-juicy) stuff like flag raisings. 

There will also be a twitter feed for council decisions, all in an effort to make council more accessible. I must say that whatever they have done just to the sound system in the council chambers is a HUGE improvement over last year. 

Council approved recommendation for SJ Regional Fire Department to give $5k towards a new drone for search and rescue ops. (Rovers Search and Rescue, SAR). But can the drone go under water, and is it compatible with the new SCUBA gear the city is purchasing? 

A tree will be planted in Bowring park for the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. Cllr Hanlon has been working with them on this for some time. She says they “tried to get a crosswalk” and then tried to at least get a tree planted with the plaque next to the tree. But they will get what (I just learned) everyone else gets which is a tree, somewhere, and then a plaque by the parking lot saying there is a tree somewhere. 

Humane Services is working out a scheme with the “Mad Catter Café” for “the provision of cats for public adoption.” Another government handout. They better not raise the mil rate after just giving away our most fuzzy, and self perpetuating stray cat resource to some private business. #KorabsKittehs

Community members were approved for various advisory committees. Deputy Mayor O’Leary pointed out that they still aren’t getting many applications from the public to join these committees. Downtown and Youth Advisory Committees are both in need of spots filled, though I noticed the lists may be out-of-date, and it is weird that the “George Street Association” representative slot is listed as unfilled. How is a Hallett or a Galgay not all over that like complaints on twitter? Go here to check out committees and put your names forward.

Other People’s Property: Secret Laboratories and Heritage vs Leniency

16 Queen St “Cornerstone Theatre” is approved for awnings.

There is a new “agricultural laboratory” going in at 148 East White Hills Road, where once there was a “hydroponics” business. Council carried the Development Committee’s recommendation for four parking spaces. There will not be more than 4 staff on site and the building will not be open to the public.

Well now. Parking usually drowns out more interesting issues, but, in this case, it seems to have allowed us, the public, the pure joy of discovery. How else would I have known there is a secret agricultural laboratory going in next to local RCMP headquarters? Is it an evil laboratory? Is it for food? or weed? I hope we never find out so the intrigue will never tarnish.

A new two-apartment home at 160 Patrick Street will be allowed 2 garage doors. Apparently, the Built Heritage Experts Panel (BHEP) recommended that only 1 garage door be allowed, in keeping with the character of the immediate neighbourhood. Cllrs Jamieson, Froude, and Burton agreed with BHEP while the rest of council voted to approve the 2 door design. Mayor Breen specifically brought up the new build across from Moo-Moos that has 2 garage doors and won a heritage award. Jamieson and Burton say that what works in one area shouldn’t always apply to another, and that Rawlins Cross is already a diverse architectural hellscape (not a direct quote) and is not comparable to Patrick Street with its basically consistent residential architecture.

But Mayor Dan Breen summed up the majority opinion, sounding just a little exasperated, with “if we want to get people doing [their] best [with] heritage, we need to give a little leeway for things like garage doors.”

THAT BIG WHITE BOX, Pro or Con?: Aka Everyone Hates AP’s Parking Garage

 

You have all seen it. The proposed hotel and restaurant atop the Atlantic Place Parking Garage along Harbour Drive. In the architectural renderings it is like a giant white shipping container, perched atop a newly whited garage. Whether you “love jobs” or “hate monstrosities,” Council has decided to at least continue this discussion. The property owner will be preparing a Land Use Assessment Report (LUAR), and public meetings will go forward.

Cllrs Jamieson and Burton, and Deputy Mayor O’Leary were opposed to moving forward with requesting the LUAR. Ward Cllr Jamieson says she has heard clearly from her constituents on this that they do not want to jeopardize the “human scale and the heritage nature” of the entire downtown core by allowing this development to proceed atop the small undesignated “island.”

O’Leary emphasized that visitors come here to “the Oldest City in North America” for the heritage. They pointed out that this sort of larger development is supposed to be encouraged on the West end of downtown, like the Fortis building.

Cllrs Froude and Lane were both in favour of moving forward to at least allow a “robust public discussion” of what, exactly, the city does want to see Downtown. Though Lane says that, as proposed, “ugly is a possible description for it.”

Froude brought up the possibility of rehabilitating the parking garage with requirements for retail/commercial space at the street level along Harbour Drive. Both cllrs seemed to think that this would help a positive dialog about what the hell we are doing focusing on parking in the downtown anyway, when so many of the garage spots (200+) are still sitting empty and there are so many other possible solutions to a vibrant core than simply the most parking possible.

Cllr Collins wants to see this debate/proposal proceed, but is wary of “view plane” issues. Cllr Hickman said that “if there was an earthquake and [the hated AP parking garage] fell that would be one way.” But, alas, instead of a natural disaster we have to contend with the disaster that is our public discourse on development.

Basically, the majority of council wants to crack this open, and use it to make some headway/changes in how the city is organizing and building itself into the future. The hotel itself is almost a MacGuffin. Though a potentially very real and physically imposing one.

This is kind of exciting. I have this tiny hopeful feeling like, outside of the stupid two-way yell fest of “you are all reactionary f’artsies who hate jobs and success and love to wear various boots both rubber and Blundtsone!” and “You have no sense of beauty or history and would ruin something forever for a buck for someone else now!” there might actually be a wide-ranging conversation possible about what contemporary architecture could or should look like here.

We ARE the oldest city in North America, we probably can give an extra few months to hashing this out. Maybe we will start to talk in three dimensions instead of just watching a tug-of-war of where we force a new building to fall along a linear scale of “faux historical with all 2×1 ratio windows and corbels; so. many. corbels” to “if it isn’t a gigantic rendering of my favourite ikea storage unit it makes me feel like a hippy.”

So, stay tuned I guess. So far it looks like a one story increase in height allowance, and a reduced parking requirement are fair game for the hotel-atop-a-garage. But this is going to get a lot more chaotic before any beams (or corbels) are laid.

P.S. Parking!

An amendment to St. John’s Paid Parking Regulations will allow for new methods of payment. So … mobile phone apps I guess.

Go-round Highlights:

Cllr Froude announced that Metrobus has changed its policy regarding strollers. You no longer have to take your baby out and fold them up (the stroller). You can bring them on, sleeping baby undisturbed, and use the courtesy seating. A council full of councillors with young children finally gave local public transportation the kick it needed to recognize the universal truth, “you NEVER wake a sleeping baby!”

A council full of councillors with young children finally gave local public transportation the kick it needed to recognize the universal truth, “you NEVER wake a sleeping baby!”

 Cllr Hickman says, if he was a character in Beauty and the Beast, he would be “The Grandfather Clock.”

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1 Comment

  • Re. Ms Deming’s comment as to why I have not put my name forth for the George St committee – to be honest, I have no business interest and affiliation with George St at all. and thus would be a poor representative. My premises are a kilometre away, and compete directly with that district, which should also disqualify me, if it does not already.

    Also, besides my interests downtown, I work full time in musical theatre and perform traditional music in a bunch of different settings, and therefore travel frequently throughout the year. As I told anyone who asked me before the last municipal election, that is the main reason I did not run for Council – I did not think it was fair to take on a job and then not show up half the time.

    I am also a member of the NL Arts Council Board, which meets with some frequency, and assist several other organizations where and when I can. And I have small children. Realistically, I am spread very thin as is.

    It is true that I am a frequent critic of Council. That is because I love this city, I have poured my life savings and work into it, and I worry that it has been very badly lead for the past decade. I try to keep my comments sensible and realistic, and avoid personal and ad hominem attacks. I also do it all in public under my own name.

    Anyway, thanks for writing these pieces, more coverage of how this city works is a vital service, and my thanks to the Overcast for doing it.

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