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

Drama in the Wetlands, a big win for mixed neighbourhoods, and more.

Proclamations:

  1. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. A family came and stood before council for the proclamation, and on the way up, the mom, in one swift motion, grabbed a baseball hat that one of her sons was wearing and tossed it behind the stairwell before they stood with the mayor. She did not even miss a step. They were awesome, obviously.
  2. September is also Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. According to the proclamation, the survival rate has not changed for ovarian cancer in Canada in 50 years and there is no reliable screening test. Women, if you do not feel good, pay attention to the “4Bs”: Bloating, Bladder issues, Bowel issues, Blahs (fatigue). Do not minimize your symptoms. Go to your doctor.
  3. PMS. Well, it wasn’t proclaimed but it is obviously the week of it, because I was literally bawling uncontrollably through the proclamations. God damn these brave women melting my icy icy heart.

Gal(ling)way Versus The City, chapter gazillion: Wetlands

Lo. There are wet spots up in Dannystan (the half-built Galway development), but none of them had been officially designated “wetlands” by the city. The city did not designate anything above the 190 metre contour to be wetlands, because no development was allowed above that mark, so there was no need to designate anything wetlands.

The city did not designate anything above the 190 metre contour to be wetlands, because no development was allowed above that mark.

But Galway was permitted to bloom on the high hill by the highway. At that time, the city re-zoned parts of the area as “Industrial,” and Dannystan chugged along as smoothly as someone pushing a secondhand double stroller through our city in February. Now, the new city council is wants to to officially designate the above-the-190 waterways, and their respective buffer zones around the Galway development, as “wetlands.”

There are two sticking points:

  1. The official reason the issue is deferred until next week for a vote: a property owner with significant land adjacent to the Galway developments has requested time to look over all the relevant documents and get more information and consult with The City, as they are concerned that the designation of the wetlands, as they are proposed, may block all current access to their land, rendering it valueless. They say this would be tantamount to an expropriation without compensation. Not a small issue. This is one arm of a push-n-pull issue that is tangly. What, if anything, are you owed, if things surrounding, but not directly on your property, change the nature of your property?
  2. Though the first issue, and how it is resolved, may have more long term impact on more people, I suspect our heads will be turned to the second: the fight between Galway developers and The City. The developers say the city approved re-zoning twice, based on plenty of detailed information, including extensive wetlands assessments. Therefore, the areas zoned “industrial” should not now be re-zoned to “wetlands.” Especially taking into account that The City has been taxing those areas as “industrial” for the past few years.

Mt Pearl is on record in favour of the full re-zoning of all wetlands to “wetlands” as they will be affected by any run-off. Water does not tend to respect city boundaries and property lines.

The City says that the re-zoning to “industrial” was done before the city had wetland mapping in place, and therefore … takesie-backsies.

But Ex-Mayor Doc O’Keefe’s signature is all over a host of documents, that Galway developers are too happy to provide, showing The City’s prior approval for the industrial re-zoning after several wetland studies had been done. Ah! But were those studies officially “accepted” by the city? As far as I can tell, this is one of the points of contention.

Read this week’s agenda for the full raft of submissions, history, supporting documents, and increasingly irritated letters that sum up to, “But … we literally got Doc’s signature here, here and here.”

This is what I like to call, in those rare moments when I’m being politic, “A great opportunity to highlight potential for improvement of processes.”

If this development was an internal exercise conducted by the city to find weaknesses and potential failure points in how they deal with zoning and development, it would have been brilliant. But, as it happened in real time, with real people’s money, and with real city resources, it is, instead, a mess. It isn’t Muskrat Falls or anything, so how about “entertainingly messy.” Or, if you don’t like laughing at things going badly, “elucidating.”

More on this next week! I’m trying to keep this week’s column short[er than usual], since this was a rare short meeting. I don’t want all you readers to burn out and fade away my second week back.

176 Freshwater Rd Continued: Small Business Versus Parking

This hold-over from last week was concluded in favour of allowing the small yoga studio to operate at what was once a hair salon. It was clear from last week that Deputy Mayor O’Leary and Cllrs Burton, Jamieson, and Froude were in favour of this. This week, Lane also made it clear he would support the change in non-conforming use application, despite the city staff recommendation to reject the application.

Cllrs Korab and Hanlon made it obvious last week (and again this week) that they will pretty much never vote for something that, gasp, means people will call and complain about parking.

Mayor Dan still thought things could move slower and “would like to have problems solved before they are voted on.” He suggested the applicant could work with the current property owner to apply for the deck to be removed and parking put in (this seems to be what they have indicated they will do if they can purchase the property.) This would solve some parking issues and then they could re-apply for the change in non-conforming use, and then they could buy the property.

These aren’t not valid suggestions, but they don’t quite grasp the position that someone with limited resources of time and money is in, while trying to invest in property or create a business.

These aren’t not valid suggestions, but they don’t quite grasp the position that someone with limited resources of time and money is in, while trying to invest in property or create a business. It also assumes that potential business/property owners can make moves with some sort of faith that the processes in place for zoning applications etc are linear, and have dependable outcomes. But … see Galway wetlands issues above.

That left Hickman, Stapleton, and Collins as wildcards. Stapleton came down against the application, for reasons at which we can only guess [maybe I am passing out randomly during the meetings, and it just so happens she gives her opinion right when I’m down?]

Collins and Hickman voted with their progressive colleagues, giving the yoga studio application a win. Is this a sign? Does this mean the city really is standing for what it has said it will stand for in its publications, despite people writing letters and going on open line to complain about parking? Mixed-use neighbourhoods won the day.

Is this a sign? Does this mean the city really is standing for what it has said it will stand for in its publications, despite people writing letters and going on open line to complain about parking? Mixed-use neighbourhoods won the day.

City Guide Remains Available in Analog

The city is entering an agreement with Bounty Print (the printer formerly known as Transcontinental) to print the City Guide for the next 2 years, with options to renew the contract for another 2.

Like most of the city’s residents still pay parking with coins, many still look for information on paper. We have an aging population and a large population with limited means, and the city seems to recognize this in these sorts of decisions. They aren’t moving away from traditional communications too soon.

In my neighbourhood they even go to great lengths to provide truly old-fashioned means of communication. This summer, they notified our entire block that there would be no parking along that street the next day by weighing down one sheet of paper with a rock on a box. It was a moment of unique civic enterprise and must be applauded as an effort not to waste either paper or thought (also it was adorbs.)

September Economic Update

Deputy Mayor O’Leary noted the good news in this month’s Economic update: the “participation rate” is up 1.2 points to 65.6%. But since the “participation rate” records both employed people and people “actively looking” for employment, it perhaps should be weighted about the same as your kids “participation trophy.”

Not highlighted by the Deputy Mayor, but listed in the update, is the drop in employment, and the rise in the unemployment rate. Which certainly is not counter to a rate that includes people “actively looking for employment” rising. 

There is a new call centre moving to town. Which, according to comments online, will probably ruin the entire world and why even build a new Waterford if we are going to destroy this many people’s mental health and entire lives with jobs this depressing (I am paraphrasing here but, trust me, I am not adding hyperbole.) Regardless of any opinions on the quality of these jobs (whether legitimate concerns or from the comments section), the S&P data call centre is supposed to bring in a quantity of up to 500 jobs.

Go-Round

Cllr. Collins: “Middle pond cats’ eyes installed there now. 14 moose sighted there across the road.” I can not comment on this comment from Collins further as it is a delicate breed of both music and language and would therefore die if dissected.

Cllr Jamieson: Work on the Rabbittown water main, which was stopped for lo these past couple of weeks due to “issues with the contractor,” should resume on Calver Street this week.

The second public meeting regarding an application for 23 St Joseph’s Lane will be this Wednesday evening. This is in the Signal Hill neighbourhood so you can be sure it will be feisty. Bring popcorn.

Cllr. Stapleton: Urges everyone to buy the Breastless and Beautfiul calendar in support of a fund to help cancer patients.

Cllr. Hanlon: Wraps up an old classic by announcing that Winter Avenue’s traffic calming measures are now complete. The turn restriction from King’s Bridge Road has been lifted, and speed cushions have been installed and that is all, forever, we hope, from Winter Avenue.

Rawlins cross will also get a temporary speed hump on Monkstown Rd. Hanlon wants everyone to know that the pilot roundabout area there is “constantly monitored” by the city and is “not left to its own devices.”

I would like to take this opportunity to point out that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-asphalt streets in tiny neighbourhoods (like, ahem, Georgestown) where you can’t/shouldn’t be gaining much speed between blocks anyway, and then expending additional resources to add large bumps to the street to “calm” everyone down is hilarious. Crap pavement is the cheapest way to keep cars slow. Why are we investing in perfect tiny speedways on blocks where we want everyone to slow down? Now be-gone ye asphalt trucks, back to where we need you on the bypasses and highways.

Cllr. Lane: Bikefest! He says it really is going to be super fun for the whole family, and also mildly chastised those people who may have expressed skepticism about the endlessness of the bike plan happenings over the last few terms, explaining that major changes take time not only practically to ensure a whole functional system, but also to bring a city along and onboard culturally. Fair enough. And an earnest kudos on sticking with the long term bike planning.

Come on out this weekend to Bikefest.

Cllr. Burton: Will be at Bikefest with her kids, and also promotes “Open Doors” this weekend, which highlights the Ecclesiastical District this year.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary: Hit Littering hard in a three point attack: 1.) Suggested staff look into the possibility of “drainage nets” to capture rubbish from run-off. 2.) Noted with pleasure that the NLC will be eliminating single-use plastic bags from their stores. 3.) Asked Planning staff to update council on what steps are being taken to remove illegal commercial signs from city traffic signs, etc.

Mayor Dan: assured everyone that the portraits of former mayors were not gone from the council chambers, but simply moved up to the higher wall in the rafters to make room for new technology coming to the chamber. Does this mean that the next time Andy Wells attends a council meeting he will have to lounge against the very back wall to be candidly photographed next to his portrait?

Last but not least, here is the winner from last week’s “What would you do at the dump after-hours contest,” both because it is an excellent movie reference and also because it was the only entry: Rebecca Cohoe wins with her nod to the highly intelligent rats of The Secret of NIMH.

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