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

"Council is almost exclusively old white men with very large heads. There is nothing wrong with any of those traits but it is weird. It is so weird that a 4 year old with no context saw it and immediately recognized it as something to be reported on."

My daughter came with me to city council this week. She has been asking all year. She had three unsolicited observations after it was over:

  1. “That was long.”
  2. Regarding City Hall itself, “Whoa. I didn’t know it would be this pretty.”
  3. The first thing she told her dad when he picked us up out front, “Dad! Dad. There were only three women there: mom, Sheilagh O’Leary, and a lady in a blue shirt.”
Photographic Proof by Maggie Holden

My observations on her observations:

  1. It couldn’t have been too long because she behaved impeccably the entire time. She is a god-damned triumph of a human. For which I take a lot of credit. You’re welcome, world.
  2. Clearly she is a brutalist, of which I 100% approve. It is a beautiful building. I am aware that this is not a popular opinion.
  3. There were a couple more women in the room but, yes, essentially she nailed this one. Council is almost exclusively old white men with very large heads. There is nothing wrong with any of those traits but it is weird. It is so weird that a 4 year old with no context saw it and immediately recognized it as something to be reported on.

St John’s, this is the window for declaring your intentions to run for council or deputy mayor or mayor, please help a future voter out and bring your diversity into the ring. New to politics? You may not win this round. But try again, and again and again. It will work. Keep throwing your spaghetti against the ceiling, someday it will stick. This is the one time when getting rejected means “try again.”

Voters won’t pick change overnight. We are an incredibly risk averse city. Which means change averse. Which, fine, who wants to change when you are already St John’s? But have you met my daughter? She is hilarious (at two years old, she made her Storm Trooper figurine say to her Luke Skywalker figurine, “I knows yer fadder!”), she is completely unafraid, she is so sharp-witted and simultaneously kind she will pierce your heart.

Please. I ask you, dearest city of my affections, I want my daughter to, at least, continue to be surprised by a lack of gender diversity and not ground down by it. Women, new citizens, weirdos, minorities of all shapes, stripes, orientations, sizes, white men with small heads, swarm the committees, put your names on the ballots. And you, voters, please vote with care, vote for more than just name recognition. When I nepotistically pass my column to my daughter in 15 years, I trust you all to have made her job much, much, more interesting.

The Grand Ol’ Concourse

Mr Ron Penney, Board chair of the Grand Concourse, was on hand to announce the new digital app for android and iPhone.

It has decent maps of the whole concourse with points of interest listed and you can search for which trails are accessible, which are for cycling, etc. Messing around with it for bit I found that the POIs aren’t populated yet with much information but the maps were decently usable.

You can also use it to report “damage, incidents or issues” according to the website. If you would rather fix than narc, you can become a “Trail Custodian”. Mr Penney, quite wonderfully, brought the paperwork right to the meeting to sign up both Mayor O’Keefe and Councillor Danny Breen to be trail custodians. Best use of strong-arming I’ve seen this summer.

Cllr Galgay asked “for a constituent” if people could “help” remove downed trees along the trails in the spring and then take them for their personal use as firewood for wood stoves. Guys. Did Galgay blow his personal budget on Chase the Ace? I know we all like a bit of free wood but I don’t like to picture our esteemed councillor in such dire straights, splintering his last wooden rocking chair to warm his cockles.

Mr Penney wisely replied that they “do not want to encourage people to go out with chainsaws.”

Then everyone clapped for the walking trails and my daughter looked around with relief and asked “is it over?”

No, baby, no. It’s just beginning.

I.J. Samson Development: For Young and Old

The former Junior High that sold for 189k is now a proposed development site for 20 townhouses and 58 seniors apartments. Council “adopted-in-principle” an amendment to their Municipal Plan that would allow for this lot to be re-zoned from “Institutional” to “Residential Medium Density” (RS). The townhouses would require this rezoning, the apartments (in nine buildings) would not.

Council did approve this “in-principle.” It will now need provincial approval and then it will come back to council for formal adoption and more public hearings.

Cllr. Hann was “glad to see there is a seniors component in this subdivision.” Because of his predicted “tsunami of seniors” that will hit in the coming decades. Hann “did the math” and we have (or will have soon) 28% of our population over 55.

This then precipitated the main discussion around this development, (aside from the ubiquitous neighbourhood concerns about “traffic, well not so much traffic as parking” – but I eschew all talk of parking for this week because there is more to life than cars and garbage).

Hann wanted to know when the seniors’ apartments portion would be started and the answer was “that it was market driven.” Which I believe translates into “whenever the developer wants, and all is subject to the developer’s whim, and who are we, as mere city council, to peer into that heart and judge or prod or remind them of promises made.”

The councillors then attempted to “get clarity” on whether a building can actually be “for seniors.” The short answer, they didn’t. Or if they did, they didn’t give it to me. Though they all seemed satisfied after this series of (slightly paraphrased but close to directly quoted) comments:

Deputy Mayor Ellsworth: We at the city have no power to dictate the age of the buyer. We have no ability to regulate that. It is illegal because that would be age discrimination.

Cllr. O’Leary: I wanted to hear that clarification about how the city cannot regulate age. When condo complexes are deemed for “seniors” can they administer that?

Mayor O’Keefe: no

Cllr. O’Leary: so it’s “geared” towards seniors.

Cllr Puddister: Can owners enforce 60+? Like Chancellor Park has certain criteria. Can a property owner legally have age restrictions?

Deputy Mayor Ellsworth: Some condos have those rules. But no one can restrict based on age. If I own a [seniors] condo, I can still sell it to Cllr Galgay tomorrow.

Mayor O’Keefe tries to wrap it up.

Cllr Tilley must speak. O’Keefe graciously allows it with a “keep it on topic!”

Cllr Tilley: I live in a condo and half the people are young, like yourself, your worship.

Mayor O’Keefe: Age is a mentality.

Good. That’s all cleared up. At least I am now clear on why Galgay thought the new development regulations would be too hard to explain.

[My daughter now leans over and whispers “how do you spell, ‘that’s what the princess looks like in her normal dress’?” with her pencil lead poised next to a freshly drawn princess in a very fancy dress. I have heavy notebook envy.]

More Developments:
But No New Farms Because…Water.
(but also maybe because tax base?)

APPROVED:

  • 75 Battery rd demolition and rebuild
  • crown land lease for power line easement along Trans-Canada Highway (approved-in-principle)
  • 26 lot subdivision behind Everard Ave and Kieley Drive in the Goulds.
  • Accessory building at 14 Lake View Ave.
  • 5% variance on a lot frontage

DENIED:

  • Crown land lease for agriculture to produce apiary and fruit, 4700 Trans Canada Highway.

The reason for denial was that farming can contribute nutrients to the environment and “an overabundance of nutrients can cause impairment of water quality and could compromise the surface water source that has been identified as a potential future drinking water supply…”

This is not untrue. And clean drinking water is as important as food. But I am curious to see how much discussion has gone in to making this such a hard and fast rule for a council that otherwise amends rules like a teenager picks at their face: constantly and ferociously, and with little long term thought as to what the overall face will look like after many big digs.

Newfoundland is food insecure. Only a tiny percentage of what we consume is produced here and if our ferry or air service falters we are in very very big trouble. This seems important. very very important. It seems like encouraging local farming would be a high priority. Unlike say, changing by-laws or making almost weekly exceptions to building plans and zoning  to allow for more housing development. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Allowing growth and making exceptions can be the sign of a dynamic city. But I’ve seen a few farming applications get denied now with zero discussion. Yet, the development of a designated wetland behind Penney Crescent is at least getting a public hearing.  And I am pretty sure no predicted disaster could make us run out of new houses within a few days.

I mean, let’s not mess with our watershed just because I’m being saucy, but there could be a fundamental flaw with our municipal system and its motivations since it is funded so heavily by property taxes that new housing starts are its financial lifeblood. It is just that food is our actual lifeblood.

Procedurally I may be comparing apples to oranges but, since we have just been denied the chance to eat any new fruit grown within 100kms of us, I’m not too fussed.

The mayor and council did emphasize that they will never support any development in the watershed. They are hoping to get together with the crown land corporation to work out a regional plan so they don’t have to keep saying “no.” So it will just be a universal given “no.”

Galgay Wants More Credit and Most Pussy Service Will Now Be Taxed

The Finance committee has recommended (and council has approved) that the city ask the province for a $100 million dollar line of credit which is only supposed to be used for “interim financing of major cost shared capital works projects.”

The city did have two $35 million credit lines like this in 2016 to pay for the Convention Centre and the Paul Reynold’s Centre. What major projects are dancing in council’s head that would require almost half again as much as a year that saw such massive building projects?

HST will now be charged on most Humane Services services. Taxes will apply to euthanizing, cremating, neutering, spaying, adopting, micro-shipping, or quarantining your pussy (or dog, but what kind of headline does that make?). No tax for licensing or impounding.

More from Emily Deming and Magdalene Rose Holden

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