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

City Council

This week is the one year anniversary of the new council being sworn in. They celebrated with an unmarred showing of unity as they voted unanimously on every single thing this week, no exceptions. It was eerie.

Before we get to this week’s meeting, there are some big things happening over the medium term and some big things that may or may not happen, but everyone will be talking about.

1. The Budget!

Hate services? Love taxes? Considering buying property to start a business, but can’t because the commercial property tax is the size of Belle Isle? Have a thought about snow-clearing/infrastructure priorities?

Just like complaining at Thanksgiving supper, and wanting to shut up your Jesus saucy-mouthed daughter-in-law when she tells you not to complain if you don’t participate (#neverstopbitchingaboutthecityBobIlovesit)? Then this is your time.

Public consultations are ongoing Right. Now. With meetings scheduled for the public throughout October in person and on Facebook Live.

Council will vote on a three year budget this December, whether you get in your two cents or no. And you can bet the city will be taking more than two cents from you whatever the new mil rate.

2. Election Reform and Make-up of Council:

(see Committee of the Whole Highlights below)

3. Mile One

It appears the city is putting the idea of selling Mile One to a private owner on the table. They are not selling it yet, and may not sell it.

They are saying that the possibility of selling it may be added to an analysis being done by KPMG to help the city understand what its Mile One options are. (Lord give my child the business degree to work in “consulting,” for she will never need fear for food upon her table) 

I can’t wait for the people who are angry over this possible sale to inexplicably be the same people who were angry about the city giving Mile One a subsidy every year.

I can’t wait for the people who are angry over this possible sale to inexplicably be the same people who were angry about the city giving Mile One a subsidy every year.

And, yes, I did immediately start wondering how big a bath the city will take, how they will spin selling at a loss, to a bunch of dudes they may have connections to. And I am secure in the knowledge that you are all thinking the same, because city politics is more gossip than Poly Sci, and everyone in St John’s has a connection to everyone else, lending a sheen of insider grease to even the squeakiest of deals.

And wouldn’t a scandal be just a little fun over the holidays, when everyone is home and it’s super dark and out? But, so far, so straight forward.

Also, this potential possible divestment is not unrelated to the budget discussion. Should they spend to keep Mile One, or push to sell? Is it a pink elephant or a Maltese Falcon? Will we watch in gleeful horror as a new owner turns around and makes a mint running it? Or will it drag its new owner down with the siren song of “owning sports” that lures wealthy men around the world to their financial doom.

And how aggressively should the city pursue short term profits (via a sale for max tag price) versus pursuing a deal that prioritizes activity downtown?

Will we ever get an answer to the eternal questions, Do Mile One and cruise ships add as much to the local economy as their looming hyped presence suggests? Or is it all chimera?

 But, for now, let’s leave the airy speculations behind, and get down to the nitty gritty of the city…

Which Neighbours Hate What: Building and Zoning

32 Rostellan Place (aka Rostellan Street on Google maps) will not be a B&B.

The owner (or future owner? It is currently listed for sale and at least one resident’s letter suggests the application was submitted by someone wanting the purchase the property), applied for discretionary use to convert the property into a 4 room B&B.

Pretty well every neighbour within two blocks objected and many wrote individual letters. They listed three consistent reasons: property values, neighbourhood character, and safety of pedestrians.

It was that last one that moved council to reject, as there are no sidewalks along this street, and there is a blind turn in an area with many young children and elderly pedestrians. It is interesting that this council seems to consider pedestrians and sidewalks as vigorously as the previous council considered parking and traffic. The times they changes.

Neighbours of 9 Great Southern Drive did not fare as well in their objection to two 6 unit dwellings  going in where they thought there would be only single family homes.

But it isn’t over yet. Cllr Burton requested (and was granted) a one week deferral to better understand the issues surrounding potential loss of greenspace through that neighbourhood, if the development goes forward.

Staff emphasized that there was never supposed to be a green belt there anyway, and it was always zoned “R2” “for townhomes” or similar, so the green was never permanent. The old “but we bought our homes! renters are scary!” argument doesn’t usually work, and I doubt it will here. You own your home, not the value you projected for it. Unless they can muster a parade of kids each day who have no sidewalks to go to, I predict this will pass. If you buy in a rapidly growing subdivided suburb, maybe expect growth?

Now for the showdown over 22 St Joseph’s Lane

The owners have been trying to get this rezoned from “Residential High Density” to “Apartment Medium Density” in order to expand the current 34 unit apartment building with 14 more units. The design itself was praised by councillors and the Built Heritage Experts Panel approved it as well.

The issue is that the units may be intended for short term rentals. The city itself cannot regulate how long someone rents a unit, but the neighbours in the Signal Hill area mobilized in an impressively cohesive mass over the past year to object to the rezoning. There were two public meetings and much ado.

Cllr Jamieson pointed out that if the site is rezoned, it would tie future council’s hands in steering the character of the area as, once it is rezoned, you could build up to 6 stories (as long as council granted parking relief). Residents were also concerned about traffic and parking but, as councillors acknowledged, Signal Hill is the most visited site in the city and a few more units won’t change traffic one way or another.

In the end, council and mayor agreed the intended use as short term rentals (which residents characterized as more “hotel” than “apartment”),  would impact the fundamental character of one of the most well known neighbourhoods in the city.

Cllr Hickman “felt a sense of duty to all of us to keep a jewel.” Cllr Burton says it is important to not let one type of use (short term rentals) dominate a neighbourhood that is currently a “shining light of mixed use.”

They really seemed to have wrestled with this one. They loved the look of it, but didn’t like the potential, less tangible impacts. Also the army ant like cohesion and persistence of the neighbourhood “no” was formidable.

The issue of sidewalks came up again. There are stretches without sidewalks in this area, and Cllr Burton suggested it may behoove the city to examine/make policy surrounding sidewalks in any areas with significant density.

Committee of the Whole Report Highlights

The Council meets every other week in a more informal setting to openly discuss the ongoing work of committees, and to wrestle with any questions raised by that work.

This allows a full hashing out before things come to a vote at the weekly council meeting. For more details than you could possibly want, see my COTW tweets from sept 26, and follow my Twitter feed every second Wednesday morning as I live tweet the Committee meetings (unless I sleep in, because I reserve the right to do so). Expect honest discussion from council and many typos from me.

  • That lane between Duckworth and George Street, near Sushi Nami Royale, across from “the deck,” will be named “Holdsworth Lane.”
  • Places of worship will be allowed to purchase up to 5 extra garbage bins, but they will have to put together waste management plans that include recycling. #Platesfromturkeyteas

Security of Public Facilities

The City is moving forward with staff recommendations to examine and implement additional security measures and infrastructure at city buildings. The original recommendation included harbour-wall-ifying the main areas of City Hall itself, halting free casual access to the great hall, and the other public areas (Council chambers, Foran room etc).

Mayor Dan made it explicitly clear that he does not support that aspect of the security plan.

Let us all be both floored and encouraged by this positive and practical declaration. Here is a person in (moderate) power holding back the hand of Old Man Security in order to protect not just the public nature of the space, but the ease of accessing it.

He mentioned how un-public some “public” places (like the confederation building) feel, and he said he does not want the main hall downtown to ever be like that. So keep an eye on this folks, but it looks like we won’t have to sign in or call security through a shatterproof glass darkly, to gain entry to our own beautiful brutalist beating city heart. Yet. (Tentative) yay.

Also, there is great art up along the stairs right now so meander over, enter at a whim and wander. The courtyard between the great hall and the parking garage is also a really nice spot for a smoke, or to watch an eclipse, or just hide in plain sight.

Election Finance Bylaws:

I mentioned this in my preamble. Council had agreed to look at election finance rules ages ago. They all now agree this should be a more comprehensive look at best practices for not only election and finance, but council make-up: should there be more/less councillors? Should they all be ward councillors? How many wards? Etc.

They aren’t pulling a Rob Ford my dudes, so settle your bunched long johns. They are beginning a long process of consultations to look at what configuration makes the most sense for the city.

They aren’t pulling a Rob Ford my dudes, so settle your bunched long johns. They are beginning a long process of consultations to look at what configuration makes the most sense for the city. The public engagement process won’t likely take place until mid-2019, and definitely not until they have paid a bunch of consultants.

Hypothetical Pedestrian Tunnels for the Possible Future Allandale-Prince Phillip Roundabout?

This is all a long ways off too, but council voted not to pay more right now to include pedestrian tunnels into the design they have commissioned of the roundabout up by MUN/Confederation building. There was LOTS of discussion about this at the COTW. See tweets.

No one thinks pedestrians will be safe crossing at-grade, on a large roundabout, with high speed traffic. But also no one thinks potentially dank, wet, dark, tunnels would be safe either. Conundrum.

New council members like Burton, and old hands, like Mayor Dan, expressed skepticism about the efficacy of the roundabout itself. Cllr Hickman, who has been working on this forever, seems a tad despondent, but not defeated, and will continue to fight the roundabout fight.

Everyone Loves RODoyle!

Council allowed the rental of 56 metered parking spaces for two days to the crew of the TV series REX being filmed in town. They acknowledge that taking up that parking will negatively impact businesses in the short term, but everyone agreed that supporting the TV and film industry helps lions and unicorns roam free in the long run.

Then they all talked about the ways the city loved The Republic of Doyle. They mostly praised it for job creation and tourism advertising. No one mentioned each episode’s pervasive and gleeful reveling in man nipples, but those were good too, for the city.

Burton says “come on with it.” But she was referring to the film industry’s economic opportunities, not the man nipples.

We will give Cllr Korab the finial word as he had, outside in his truck, the few pieces of architectural flourish that could be salvaged from the Waterford Manor demolition, including, yes, the finial. He said there wasn’t much left to save due to looting over the past year. But the finial, a post and the steeple, will “get into heritage hands.”

He also still has “seven cases of girl guide cookies left” for $5 a box. So get at him.

Let’s end on man nipples, finials, and cookies shall we?

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1 Comment

  • Cut services! Taxes are too high in this city, I could care less about a decrease in service so long as my tax bill does not go up. I know a few of you councilors will be reading this, so hear me now, I will not vote for any incumbent who votes to raise taxes, and I will make a campaign donation to any councilor who votes against. And sell that damned stadium. There is no reason whatsoever for the city to be involved in that, especially at a loss. Sell it to businessmen who actually know how to operate such a facility.

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