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

Emily's Back in the the Rafter Seat at City Hall every week to provide you readable recaps of every meeting. Check TheOvercast.ca every Wednesday morning for the column.

I’m back on the council beat! I’ve been off for over half a year with other projects (ghost-writing a memoir, making a podcast-app, updating a Newfoundland travel guide, and binge-drinking in recycled inner tubes).

But all the Blue Star and road-trips in the world couldn’t fill this brutalist architecture sized hole in my soul. So welcome back to meeee! I’m so happy to be here! Hello rabid parking fights! Hello small town pageantry! Hello Cllr Galgay! Wait… what?

Yes, one-term, recently-defeated, ex-Ward 3 “Name recognition win” councillor Jonathan Galgay made sure to weigh-in on the issue of fluctuating, elevated levels of Manganese in the petty-harbour long pond water system by both kissing a Danny’s ass and sniping at every other current member of council at once. These grapes are so sour they belong in a glass, on a bar, on George Street, where they will be rightfully left to collect fruit flies while we all drink Lottie’s white Russians. Goddamn I love this city, and its thousand stories of petty personal grievance.

But, while Galgay is forever, there is a brand new sceptre bearer to proceed the Mayor to his carved throne and … wait … I think they called him Mayor “Dan” Breen. Gawd, everyone is growing up!

Manganese

Aka “have you ever seen a commie drink a glass of water? […] Mandrake, have you never wondered why I drink only distilled water, or rainwater and only pure grain alcohol?

The currently-relevant-Danny/Dan (Mayor Breen) assured the public that they’ve got this. Like super, super got this. Take-away message: Manganese is not lead (it is, according to Mayor Dan, “one of the least toxic metals,” which is for sure my new soft-core metal band name). St. John’s is not Flint, Michigan. If the water is not visibly discoloured it is totes safe; if it’s not brown, you can drink it down.

The mayor assured everyone that the city does daily testing, and the issue is monitored but the levels remain inconsistent so check the color of what is coming out of the tap each time. While they figure this all out and find a way to maintain levels consistently low and safe to drink, the city will provide drinking water to all affected areas. If you have any issues or cannot get access to clean water for any reason, including mobility issues, call 3-1-1. Mayor Dan went on to say “working aggressively,” “experts,” and “new technologies.”

What is still missing is a good, well-informed explanation for why it is higher than normal this season. I know it is “naturally occurring” but, hey, where are you local earth scientists? This is your chance to shine! Use this to sneak some science at us. Soil and rock compositions and drainage patterns are the absolute best, and for once you have an audience that will listen to your science because we’ve gotten ourselves all scared. Soothe us with science, nerds! I await your topomaps and diagrams with happy anticipation.

Other People's Property

Heritage, Development and Non-conforming Use Applications

 58 Circular Road: Notice of motion to eventually enact amendment to designate this building as a heritage structure. Everyone votes but Cllr Collins who remains an enigma of curmudgeonly apathy. I cannot honestly ever tell if he is voting against things, or just has some secret exemption from physically raising his arm. This city knows how to keep its secrets … about Cllr Collins.

(Yes, I still wonder what that complaint was that the city resolved in 2017 but never explained. Why announce an investigation and a resolution if you can’t tell us what it is? It’s like when Faythe, who sits next to you in music class whispers that “someone likes you.” Who likes me, Faythe? Who!? Ugh, Faythe, why did you even say anything if you can’t tell me.)

12 Ron’s Road in Portugal Cove may indeed replace their out-building but, whoa there fellow, not that big … keep it to 30 square metres (not the requested 37) and you are good to go. Shed party this time next year?

35 Cashin Ave may have its requested 5.47 metre set-back (as it is more conforming than the current set-back).

176 freshwater Road: Someone buying this property is applying to change the current “non-conforming use” to an even more non-conforming use. The main floor of the building was previously allowed to house a Beauty salon and the potential purchaser would like to convert that to a small scale yoga studio with an occupancy enlargement of 41%, and three employees. There is some onsite parking available.

Staff in planning reviewed the application and recommended rejection because 1, it is a “more intense” use than the previous business and 2, because of possible parking issues. But, curve ball! Cllr Burton moved to reject the recommended rejection!

She is confident that the parking issues are not insurmountable and can be worked out with some discussion between the business and the neighbours. She also alluded to some deep state back-channel intel when she mentioned that she had talked to “some parking staff” who thought the parking issues weren’t too bad, and could be dealt with reasonably.

Planning-Man Sinyard, picking up this gauntlet, said that “if certain parking staff gave certain information” to a certain councillor that he would very much like certain planning staff to have that information. There was a lot of discussion between Burton’s initial statements and Sinyard’s response so it was less dramatic in real time, but I will take what intrigue I can get.

Generally, Deputy Mayor O’Leary and Cllrs Jamieson and Froude were in favour of erring on the side of allowing the application to pass as they favoured seeing small neighbourhood businesses develop in this area that is close to the new Community Market and to MUN. O’Leary pointed out that empty buildings can be a bigger concern for a neighbourhood than parking.

Jamieson clarified that the one submission from residents was mainly concerning parking, and since “traffic” said you could fit a little more on-street parking in the area, and since staff have seemed willing to entertain permit parking for residents, the benefits of services to make healthier neighbourhoods outweighed finite and solvable parking concerns.

Cllr Hanlon expressed concern that if they allowed this application against planning’s recommendation, would it set some sort of precedent where past applications that were rejected for parking concerns would come back to haunt council? (Lord do not wake the sleeping beast of Kent Place vs Connie Parsons Dance). Planning-Man Sinyard assured her that each is evaluated on its own merits so one does not bode for another.

Breen wondered why they didn’t just refer it back to committee to hash this all out, and Cllr Burton reminded us that all these decisions are actually about real people on real people timelines, and real people budgets, and that if the decision isn’t made soon the sale may not be able to go through, and some very flexible entrepreneur in comfortable pants will have their business mat pulled out from under them before they have even shivasana’ed on it.

Cllr Korab was as conservative as his ward expects him to be while trying to sound agreeable to all sides. He is “all for business,” but staff says there is a parking issue, but Cllr Burton says there isn’t, but ultimately he can’t vote for it “if staff says there is a parking issue.” Well played, like a chess master. But with only one chess piece, and more physical-less cerebral, and the one piece is slid cautiously upon a well swept surface.

Hanlon brought up that this past year hot-yoga parking got tangly during the winter parking ban. But professional yoga instructor Jamieson put out that seemingly-relevant-but-not-really fire by pointing out that the downtown yoga studio Hanlon referred to is “ten times” the size of the proposed studio.

In a relatively painless compromise all around, Cllr Jamieson moved this decision be deferred for one week. All approved. See ya next week (and also every week in some form) small business vs parking!

… And that paves the way perfectly into Paid Parking Regulations:

The city has been diving way beyond the weeds and right down into the roots of parking this year. Let us please all read this report from last winter so we can gripe (and brainstorm!) with some semblance of solid information. Some of the highlights are:

  • Parking meter vandals only got like 12k in coins, but the city estimates it cost us over a million in lost revenue, hardware replacement, and staff time, and lost business revenue since parkers stay at free vandalized spaces for full days, allowing no overturn of traffic etc. (Yet, still I sing, and will continue to sing, “I need a hero! I’m holding out for a hero while I circle this block” as my heart rises and falls on the tides of those beautiful, savage, top-bopped meters. It’s not right, but it’s true.)
  • Council is endlessly fascinated with Churchill Square’s potential to be a blazing civic light of perfection … if only they can just figure out the magic formula.
  • They want to move to cashless systems, but acknowledge that not everyone has access to credit cards or mobile technology. But they seem to only nod to this in terms of “social and economic equity” without taking tourists into account. Who wants to use data on vacation in a foreign country to download parking apps? Guess we will find out.
  • Over 70% of all parking meter fees are still paid with cash. So, slowly slowly catchy monkey, I guess.

As the lead on Parking and traffic, Hanlon is leading this discussion but … Whoa! Cllr Froude steals the ball and asks so many relevant, pointed, and detail- practical- and solution-oriented questions that Breen and Hanlon suggest they sling this whole thing back to the next Committee of the Whole. Because it hasn’t been yet. And COTW is basically made for this diagramming of reports.

FYI: Froude asked:

  1. Why large vehicles that take up more than one space would only be required to pay for one space.
  2. If there is anything that explicitly inhibits businesses that want to “bump out” and build temporary patios into parking spaces, while leaving sidewalks clear.

After a brief back and forth, where the whole council confirms that they have never quite got a handle on what the difference is between “deferring” and “referring,” the Parking regulations are referred to the COTW.

And, again, “See ya next time, parking!”

Public Meetings: too many? not enough? independent chairs?

 The city is moving an amendment to the City Development Regulations that would allow an independent person to chair public meetings. This would, theoretically, allow for a chair that is politically neutral and also allow councillors to attend and listen and observe the public’s responses throughout ,without getting into it themselves. The chairs would be paid, but that cost would be recouped by the city from the applicant.

Cllr Hickman wonders if this could be a step towards consolidating public meetings with the later-in-the-process commissioner’s meeting, so everything could be done at once. Hickman requested that the city lawyer look into it anyway.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary noted that trying to streamline the process too much may limit public engagement.

The move to bring the original amendment forward (to be ratified by the province and incorporated in the Urban and Rural Planning Act) carries with only Cllr Burton voting against.

Misc. Money For:

  • Sports field lighting and score clocks (why am I imagining these on George Street?)
  • After hours security at Robinhood Bay (why is this giving me all sorts of ideas? Contest! What would YOU break into the dump for, after hours? It can be a noun or a verb…. go! Whatever it is, it better be worth 175k over 1.5 years to curtail)
  • ESRI (Geographic Information Systems) software 3 year enterprise agreement: 285k for 3 years.
  • Last, but 100% Not least, is 546k for 15 years worth of Self Contained Breathing Apparatuses. Two things to note here 1: we (apparently) donate our old-out-of-warranty-SCUBA gear to “third world countries with lower standards” according to Hickman, which is awesome, and can they also find a country to take my perfectly nice but-out-of-warranty infant car seat? 2: What is this equipment for? I want pictures. Please submit your illustrated hypothetical of how the city of St. John’s uses its half million dollars worth of SCUBA gear. Open to any age, must be hilarious, stick figures accepted. Email your entries (and your after-hours-at-the-dump dreams) to rhymeswithunderstand@gmail.com.

GO-round

O’Leary: Swam the tickle to raise money for mental health on her vacation for frick’s sake (while I lay like a slug on my hammock and absent-mindedly loaned my 6-year old my hammer so she could “make stuff.”)

Burton: Reminds everyone that the application for City Poet Laureate closes on September 21st. (Am I imagining it, or did she looks a little wistful? Who loves planning regulations and poetry equally? We have a special breed of nerd in this at-large.)

Lane: Guess. Go ahead, guess. Guess what poor Cllr Lane had to announce on my first day back. In his own words, “all things bike.” It’s like I never left. Time stands still. But somehow it isn’t the same without ex-cllr Puddister making fun of him and his bicycles and his endless review engagements (yes, “bikefest” this month is, indeed, kicking off a “review engagement.” I am having serious de ja vu).

And now this local bike rack design contest is definitely probably going to revolutionize how we attach bikes to cars. (Oh dear. Don’t mind the sarcasm, Dave! I’m just trying to prepare you for when your tiny perfect new baby is a teenager! Because that will happen before this city implements a functional city-wide bike plan.)

Stapleton: (who, yes, exists) Back to school Community clean up for Ward 1 at MacDonald on Friday September 28th at 2pm.

Jamieson: Reminds people that the city will assist anyone in the affected water areas who has a mobility issue, and also is glad the city hopped-to and fixed that crosswalk accessibility issue in the new Rawlins Cross round-about. Also, in regards to the notorious Rawlins Cross, the RNC will be “giving help” over there now, to address concerns that cars are not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalks. No-cops-no-stops! No. Not really, please stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks whether there are cops or not.

Korab: Shout out to the anonymous donor who paid for 29 cat adoptions from the city shelter. #KorabsKittehs

Froude: Loves biking the t’railway but only downhill. (Yes. This is correct and good and right and true. And me also). Noted that the rocks meant to block automated vehicles from the trail also effectively blocked his bike trailer so he had to hoist his bike and kids-in-bike-trailer over the rocks. Put it on the slate for bikefest’s review engagement!

Collins: Traffic engineers will be reviewing the intersection on the Ruby Line after that terrible accident over the weekend. Collins said he drove through the intersection and “can’t really see, [him]self, anything wrong with [it].” But the engineers will have a second look, just to make sure.

See youse next week! (yay

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More from Emily Deming

3 Comments

  • Laugh it up, Deming! The reason we’re always engaging on biking in St. John’s is because: 1) there has always been a tiny minority on Council who understand the value of a bike network; and 2) it takes years to develop a plan that the wider public agree on and understand, too.

    BUT! I think our minds will be blown by the attendance at September 16th’s BIKEFEST from 10am-2pm on Water Street. We’ve hit a turning point and I’m more excited than ever. Learn more: http://www.bikestjohns.ca

    p.s. this is the best column The Overcast has ever produced, and I’m thrilled to see you back 😀

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