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

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Total Eclipse of the Fun

Outside city hall, the crescent shaped shadows through the trees’ leaves hung like glinting fish scales with a weighted light.

Inside city hall, next month’s elections hung like a pall over the council meeting, stifling the usual fun right out of the meeting. What good is reporting on our representatives while they are behaving as if everyone is watching? I liked them better in late winter and early spring when their guard was down.
The councillors were particularly cordial to one another today and managed to pass on compliments to each other in-between pointing out their own moments of foresight (which I’m not knocking, if we all look for their failings, they must be allowed to hawk their achievements.)

The Wetlands: saved to be voted upon another day.

And so Cllr. Puddister moved that council “re-confirm the zoning of the Anglican Synod property next to Penney Crescent as Open Space” even though legal staff has explained previously that doing so will change nothing and cannot stop developers from applying, yet again, for re-zoning. But I suppose it makes the statement that this particular council is unlikely to ever vote for a re-zoning there.

Municipal Plan and Development Regulations

YOU SHOULD ALL PAY ATTENTION NOW: Rubber Booter? Danny-til-you-drop-pro-development? Heritage Freak? Misery-guts neighbour? This affects YOU!

Next comes our Municipal Plan and the Development regulations that will support it. The plan, Envision St. John’s, was written in 2014 but has now been updated as a new draft for 2017. We should all read this. And not just for the book jacket blurbs:

“Wonderful plan!” – Cllr. Hickman
“Tremendous! A great road map for the city!” – a suddenly awakened Cllr. Tilley

This document is, in theory, guiding all of our city’s decisions for the next decade. You may be pleasantly surprised, you may be upset, I mean, it is very au courant to get upset this century. But you will absolutely learn things you did not know about places you love.

Did you know that the land around Freshwater Bay is defined as an “Industrial Land Use District?” No? Check out section 8.7.9, “The City shall recognize the possible future use of Freshwater Bay in accordance with the St John’s Urban Region Regional Plan and the St. John’s Development Regulations.” This is good information. On all sides.

What (you are now asking yourself in a flurry of practical thinking, as you roll up your sleeves and push your glasses up your nose) are the St. John’s Development Regulations?” What they are is almost finished. But not quite yet. While the Municipal plan is done and your outrage or championing won’t change any of it now, the regulations that will support it (or obfuscate and ensnarl it) are not quite codified.

The Draft Development Regulation BookClub:
You Bring the W(h)ine!

Think of these Development Regulations as the Death Star in the first Star Wars. Many a pale white man of loathsome visage may say they are unfathomably complex and, at this point, unassailable. But, a big impact you may have, if you pay close attention to the blueprints; especially before 100% completion.

I have mentioned this twice already this summer. It rings important. Embattled ward 2 councillor Jonathan Galgay and Mayor O’Keefe were the lone voices on council in July opposing a public information session:

“Cllr Puddister suggested the session. Everyone, except Cllr. Galgay and Mayor O’Keefe, agreed it would be helpful, even if it would take more time and cause a little delay.

Cllr Breen summed up the majority of council’s feelings well, explaining that though “[he doesn’t]have the technical knowledge for this it gives people a chance to understand it more. [It can] give a better understanding to those who are interested and then they will give a better understanding to the general public.”

Galgay and O’Keefe, in their paraphrased words, said that since they didn’t have the “background or competence” (Galgay) to understand this “technical and complicated” (O’Keefe) document they feared we didn’t/wouldn’t either so what’s the use in trying when it would do no good and cause unnecessary delays.”

Do these regulations hold up the enVision put forth in the Municipal Plan? Do they hog-tie it? Are these regulations clear and unambiguous, yet flexible? If flexible, do they flex for everyone or only for some? If you wanted to improve your property, or build something, or protect something, or farm on your rooftop, or inhabit a new space or grow your business or line your properties with playdough heads on pikes to protect yourself from neighbourhood children, what do these regulations require of you? DO THEY SUCK OR DO THEY NOT SUCK? That is an important question.

You tell me… here’s a link

Let’s read them! It could be like a really weird book club. We can each pick a section and read it well. Then show up at the August 29th public forum and ask all the intelligent questions. Dibs on
Section 6.12.2 “Home Occupation in an Accessory Building.” I imagine this to be a gothic tale recounting forced nan-ual labour in a backyard shed. Or maybe this contains shed party legislation? Cant wait to find out!

If, upon reading, you realize there has been a hideous misstep, you have but one small chance. According to Cllr Puddister, after this goes to the province, you can comment on it and “bring issues forward” at the “Commissioner’s Report Hearing.” Though the councillors also intimated it could only be tweaked at that point, or any point (remember: death star – almost complete), it is still not official.

Balkin’ on Boncloddy:

If you haven’t heard about the small-business-owner-to-be who got his dreams crushed by badly timed city paperwork, don’t worry. It is election season. You will hear about him again. This week Cllr. Puddister, spurred on by this fiasco, promised to move a resolution at the next meeting to extend the non-conforming use exceptions within the city from 3 years to 4 years (though I believe that wouldn’t help in this particular case as it already expired and the change wouldn’t be retroactive),
He then declared he would work with both staff and Ward 2 Cllr Galgay in the two weeks until the next council meeting to figure out how to help the family specifically as they try to open a restaurant in the erstwhile biker bar. He said they will “come back with something.”

PS. If you were up in arms about this restaurant reno getting caulk-blocked on a technicality, I would refer you back to the segment above. Get engaged now in the city’s regulations-to-be.

Winter Ave: Traffic Diversion Pilot Plop

This took up most of the meeting but I will sum it up quickly:

Cllr. Lane proposed that the pilot traffic study that is restricting access to Winter Ave from Kingsbridge Ave. across from the Dominion be scrapped and speed bumps be considered instead.

As the ward councillor, O’Leary was clear that she was in favour of sticking out the pilot as planned until October so the data could be properly assessed. Everyone agreed with her. Lane was gracious and the conversation led back to, in O’Leary’s words, the larger issue of traffic in the whole area, of which Winter Ave was “a symptom” and not the cause.

This is basically what Cllr. Puddister said when the pilot was first proposed.

Council now all agree that the whole thing is a mess and building traffic calming infrastructure on a street by street basis without a more holistic approach is garbage traffic engineering. So look out for the already restricted blocks of Empire and Circular to band together and freak the hell out when and if a larger plan makes them throughways again.

Signal Hill Speedways … and Road Development Where I Pick My Chuckley Pears?

Cllr. Hickman has given notice that “at a future meeting” he will move for a feasibility study “into construction of an alternate route up Signal Hill from the Miller Centre parking lot area to the MUN Battery facility area.”

This seems likely to build an ultimate fight style ring for a major throw down with different goals and tactics on every side. From residents of Signal Hill who have been very vocal lately about their 1950s style all out war with loud bikers and might welcome an alternate route, to residents of Forest Rd who don’t want to be the next Winter Ave-style shortcut, and of course, the basic “infrastructure good” vs “don’t touch our wild spaces.”

If they do build it someday, I hope they put one of those awesome bike-lifts on the street to help us up the hill in all weather, and maybe a side lane for slip n slide in the summer and sliding in the winter. Lord I hope whatever they do, they do it with some imagination and a little panache.

In Summation: Cllr. Puddister wins this week.
If only because he got angry-comment-panned all week on social media over the balkan restaurant on Boncloddy when mostly he was just the one trying to explain what happened to the media, not the one who caused it to happen. Plus,  he was more restrained than I would have been about his “I told you so” on Winter Ave. traffic calming.

See you all on August 29th at Draft Development Regulation Book Club!

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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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