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

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In Lieu of repeating all four proclamations I will hereby Proclaim that this Thursday, November 23rd is Yanksgiving. That means I must spend every spare minute this week peeling potatoes and calling relatives for recipes and staling bread and sticking cloves into ham fat.

Because of all this potato peeling I will sum up the meeting today in two main points, and then throw in a few other miscellaneous items. (but the second point will be very very long).

Speak up! A Direct Plea to Council

Firstly, we can’t hear you, councillors. Literally. Please look up and speak into your microphones. Please don’t be that person at a show or a lecture who picks up the mic and then lays it down and says “I don’t need this! I am really super good at projecting, my voice teacher told me so in grade 5!”

At least I assume that is what these doofs are always saying since no one past the first row can ever actually hear them. As far as I know, councillor Hickman talked about how fuzzy his socks were today. This is a public meeting guys, don’t just talk to the iPad in front of you.

Fun story. I actually went and got fitted for a hearing aide once last year because going to the council meetings made me think maybe my hearing sucked. But it didn’t help … because hearing aides don’t fix mumbling. A second test confirmed it wasn’t me it was them. I was auditorily gas-lighted by the bad oratorial habits of council.

Rejoice! I and the people want to hear from you! Please let us do so.

Connie Parsons’ School of the Black Arts and Destroyer of Peace and Cul de Sacs

Secondly, what I did hear today was a council refusing to make a simple decision on whether a small business can use an attached piece of its own land to add more parking. All objections to this proposal are from neighbours who, I am not making this up, don’t like the clients of said business parking along their street because there isn’t enough parking provided. So they have been pressuring council to vote down more parking. What?

A few weeks ago council gave a big thumbs up to another small business (Caul’s Funeral Home) that backs onto a residential street (Gear Street) tearing down several houses that it bought to expand their lot. Here, the newly acquired property won’t even be torn down, just a bit of asphalt added to an existing driveway to connect the business lot and the existing driveway of the adjoining lot.

Am I talking about the Connie Parsons School of Dance kerfuffle? Yes. Yes I am. Kerfuffle? But it’s just a few parking spots! Ho-ho! There is nothing that brings more passion to the council than parking. Parking and the children! Here there are both.

There are children who live on (or visit) the cul de sac of Kent Place (off which is the entrance to the dance studio), and children getting dropped off and picked up from dance lessons. And, apparently all their lives are in mortal danger because parents keep idling along the street instead of parking. Which is the reason the neighbours refuse to let up their impressive letter writing campaign to the city to make sure the school is denied additional parking. Feel like you are missing something? You are.

The real issue, which is clear after reading through every. single. letter. written over the last few months is that the neighbours don’t like that there is a business on their block at all. They don’t like that her clients park on their street. They don’t like the inconvenience of the extra traffic (who does?) and they just do not like her. She did not fluff them at all. And now she thinks she can fix the problem by … fixing it? They do not buy it. She never got them on her side and now they will never buy it.

And fair enough I suppose from their perspective, a few more spaces may not fix it to their satisfaction. And it is absolutely their right to throw their voting weight to council on this. But being the most incensed and the most prolific should, in the end, not decide a vote. It should help clarify the issues, but it shouldn’t be only the weight of a mob, however sweet, righteous and neighbourly that mob screams that they are, that decides development policy.

But the councillors, the ward councillors especially, can’t completely ignore a group of vehemently vocal constituents! Except they can. But they wont, despite the rational assessments of city staff which recommend approving the parking. The “old” council already voted against staff recommendations and voted this down last summer.

That “old” council worked on the principle of (almost) always deferring to the ward councillor. The ward councillor at the time, O’Leary, went with the neighbours who asked for protection from the very principles that the city is trying to codify in its new municipal plan. The new ward councillor, Froude, champion of mixed use neighbourhoods and small businesses, is now doing the same.

But this is a new council. And it isn’t quite so willing to just take a ward councillor’s vote for it. And Froude himself looked loathe to make this vote. He admitted he “didn’t start from a position of opposition” but after “many conversations with residents about parking and traffic” he is now weighing the “small improvement” that the added parking would make against the “large effect of encroachment on such a small street.”

But since even just writing this I can feel it sticking in his craw, it is no wonder he ended by pleading around the table that he would “appreciate input from councillors and staff on how we can move forward on this.”

Deputy Mayor O’Leary also went on at length to express how painful voting against a “terrific” small business is, but she would do it anyway because the immediate neighbourly residents really really don’t want it. I will point out also that many neighbours in the surrounding streets did write letters in support. Those that aren’t directly impacted think more parking would solve a parking issue. No one cares about your traffic woes like you do.

Cllr Lane originally voted with the residents, but said he has since had more time to “dig in a bit further” and has determined that the “status quo won’t solve anything.” He pointed out that the footprint would be the same, but there would simply be more parking.

Other councillors were confused by details of the proposal itself.

Cllr Hanlon pointed out that if more parking won’t help, according to the residents who had been calling her, then, what was the solution? She said she asked that question of every single one of the people who called her to vote against the parking. She did not get an answer. So with problem solving/brainstorming in mind (or perhaps she heard Froude’s silent plea to pretty please not make him have to vote on this), Hanlon suggested they take the whole shebang back to the Committee of the Whole. (Please always hear “Committee of the Whole” read in the voice of a Professional Wrestling announcer, because that is how I always write it.)

Cllr Burton asked who would get to present the arguments on each side to the COTW and the mayor said it would have to be both Connie Parsons and then a representative from the residents.

Then Deputy Mayor O’Leary asked who would get to present the arguments on each side to the COTW and both Burton and Breen looked confused but Breen repeated that it would be both Connie Parsons and the residents. And he clarified that the residents would have to figure out among themselves, with a little assist from their ward councillor (you’re a better man than I am Gunga Froude) what individual would speak for them.

In conclusion: I propose a new rule for the city wherein all residents can (and should!) get involved in both developing our city plan and our development regulations, but no resident should ever get a say in what happens immediately abutting their house. Because we are all conservative protectionist assholes with no civic vision when it comes to our own elbow room.

On a side note, Cllr Froude expressed some concern with the referral since this had already been dragging on so long, and there was some urgency in that, if there was asphalt to be laid, it would have to be done before the frozen times. Which I cannot help but see as Froude showing his hand that, though he felt bound to vote with the Kent Place crew, he was assuming that the majority of council not bound by ward voters, would vote against him. Or not. I’m more projecting than mind reading.

Miscellany:

Kevin O’Shea from the Public Legal Information Association of NL (looking dapper in a seasonal new beard) helped proclaim Restorative Justice Week. There will be a panel discussion on how to apply restorative Justice tonight (aka Thanksgiving Eve) at 7pm at the MUN Education Building, room 1020. I highly recommend a certain school of dance and certain bloc of neighbours head over and get some tips.

Food Drive this week. Everyone needs to eat. Please put non-perishable food donations out for pick up on your garbage collection day by 8am.

A spot for “recreational archery, with lounge” is opening at 152 Water St. Fingers crossed that hot fox from the original Disney Robinhood will be hangin’.

Cllr Burton, while discussing the goals of the City’s Youth Advisory committee, mentioned a “child’s right to make friends” which I thought I would highlight here in case anyone wants to tease her. Because I don’t have the heart since so far she is so sincere but … if that’s a “right” then I think maybe I don’t know what that word means, or what childhood was supposed to be like.

Hanlon boldly volun-told the whole council for kettle duty for the Salvation Army. They didn’t look grateful, they looked like they were mentally scanning their calendars for excuses. Then she said she would be marching in the Santa Parade, but it was more a throwing of a gauntlet than a statement of holiday enthusiasm. She will be walking with the SPCA. Where will YOUR councillor be come santa’s big day?

Cllr Collins, in a surprise flourish of practical action, called on staff to check if the city was getting ripped off since we pay for electricity per light post, but there have been so many lights out along Pitts Memorial lately that we are paying for dark roads.

Until I get to write about anger and parking again next week! Happy (real) Thanksgiving!

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Emily Deming

Emily Deming is involved in a love affair with St John’s so deep it extends to attending plays, poetry readings, and dance festivals.

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