Residents growing ‘increasingly alarmed’ about ‘lack planning going into development’

in Letters by

I am a resident of the Kenmount Park area in Mt. Pearl. After ten years of living overseas (to pay down our student loans and put enough aside for a down payment on a house) my husband and I returned to Newfoundland in 2016. We had already spent two years searching for a house online and following our return spent another 8 months seeing properties all over St. John’s, Mt. Pearl, and Kilbride before finally settling on a modest home, at the top end of our budget, that answered most of our needs. A deciding factor in our decision, were the woods and trails directly behind the property, as well as the view of the lovely trees behind the back fence.

Following the purchase of this, our first home, we set to work cleaning, painting, re-sanding, and doing all the other little jobs new homeowners do to turn a house into a home. As these jobs eased off we began to spend more time walking through the woods behind the house. They were rejuvenating daily walks through the trees and bog in this area that I, as it turned out, mistakenly took to be Crown Land. And which, I was led to believe, was part of a green belt that would remain undeveloped because of the power lines that ran behind our street. But every day as I drove to work down Kenmount, I watched the trees and bush disappear for new commercial spaces. And, despite the province’s economic situation, houses are still going up on tree cleared lots in the Kenmount Terrace area.  The one tree per lot policy seems to involve putting in a spindly little deciduous sapling in front of each house.

I began to worry about the land behind our home. So, to stay informed I made sure to sign up for the updates that the City of Mt Pearl sends via email. At first the notices I received seemed inconsequential; mostly notices about water shutoffs for maintenance and repairs. Then there was a notice for a public hearing regarding amendments to the proposed development of an apartment building east of Mt Carson Avenue.

“City Council adopted Municipal Plan 2010 Amendment No. 19, 2018 and Development Regulations 2010 Amendment No. 64, 2018 on March 20, 2018.

The purpose of the amendments is to provide Council with the authority to consider an application for a proposed apartment building for a property located east of Mount Carson Avenue and north of Dunrobin Street, and to also undertake a mapping correction to modify the Open Space (OS) boundary for the existing open space located east of the Finlaystone Drive / Dunrobin Street intersection to coincide with existing property boundaries in the area.”

Then I saw that the public hearing, due to lack of response from the public, had been cancelled. Then I received a notice about the Kenmount Hill Comprehensive Development Scheme Amendments:

 “The intention of the proposed amendments is to change the land use designation and the zoning of the lands currently zoned “CDA-Kenmount Hill” to residential or commercial designations and zones to give Council the authority to consider future applications for development in that part of the City. Prior to deciding on the amendments, Council invites comments in writing no later than noon on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. Should no written comments be received, the briefing session will be cancelled. Comments received form part of the public record. If you do not wish your name attributed to your comment, please note that clearly at the beginning of your submission.”

The notice included a link to a webpage which I clicked on to further investigate (http://www.mountpearl.ca/briefing-session-kenmount-hill-comprehensive-development-scheme-amendments/ ). This rezoning included several high density residential areas as well as commercial space. Hyperlinks to the scheme and various maps were made available as well as a notice about a public briefing that was to take place Thursday, April 26 at the Gloria Pearson Community Centre. The land uses map (http://www.mountpearl.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Proposed-Land-Uses-Map.pdf) showed that the area directly behind our house would be rezoned and designated as high density residential and would include condo/apt lots as well as a condo/apt building. My concern grew. As well as losing our privacy, the trees, the direct access to the walking trails — walking trails, I later learned lie in the hands of private land owners one of whom wants to sell to a developer, what would that kind of development do to the property value of this house we just sunk most of our savings into? Because we would have to sell the house.

I wrote a letter to the City outlining my concerns and began to tell people I encountered on walks around the neighbourhood, about the plan. No one I spoke to at that point was aware of the scheme. I had plans to go door to door one night after work to let people know but was having difficulty finding the time. I was greatly heartened to have a knock on my door one day from a neighbour who was busily doing that exact thing. She was going door-to-door handing out info about the proposed scheme, the upcoming meeting and encouraging some letter writing which, I reassured her, I had already done.

In my conversation with this same neighbourhood resident I wondered if we would receive any other notification from the city. She was sure we would and we eventually did receive notices in the mail but only days before the briefing. Further, the notice did not state in writing the time and location of the briefing but instead included a webpage address and a phone number. When I called that number and asked why this was so I was told that there had been a debate in the office about it but that in the end this was what the City decided to send out.

Despite this oversight, many local residents, and a few people from other parts of the city, came to the meeting. All those residents who stood to speak, me included, were not in favour of the proposed scheme as it was presented to us. One man who spoke lives back on to the site east of Mt Carson Avenue, where development of that apartment block will be going ahead. He said that he will now be losing much of his sunlight due to this project going ahead directly behind his fence (and which went from a 3 to 4 storey building). He went on caution us all there that evening to remain aware and vigilant of the rezoning and development plans before it’s too late.

Another woman, who lives off Blackmarsh Road, told us about the new house she bought in a recent residential development on the downside of Kenmount Hill. She mentioned how she had a lovely view from her house of the surrounding tree-laden hillside until she came home one day after work to discover much of it had been bulldozed and cleared for further development. She cautioned us against allowing that same developer to be the one responsible for the area on the proposed rezoning and development map that lies directly behind this bulldozed area.

Many other concerns were expressed like the loss of a quiet family-friendly neighbourhood and the wooded area that is home to a moose or two, a Great Horned Owl, etc. and walking trails. Concern about what the stripping away of trees and topsoil in the area which, even the proposal noted, would probably never recover. And what this clear cutting form of development would do to the drainage in the area of Kenmount Park where some residents are already subject to occasional flooding due to the runoff from higher elevations and George’s Pond. Other concerns raised were about the increased traffic and congestion that over 2000 new residents, and their vehicles, would bring to the area. Not to mention the disruption caused during an extensive construction process that would include blasting. A resident of Elmcliff Crescent wanted to know about the road that, in the proposed scheme, would be built directly behind his newly purchased home. This road would take out the trees that currently act as a buffer to the presence of Avalon Ford and whatever other development might be coming up from the St. John’s side of Kenmount Hill. His point was that as this neighbourhood lies on the border between the two shouldn’t any development of the area be approached as a whole since development on either side will impact the other.

Some of this proposed development is tied into rezoning areas that are currently above the 190 metre contour line. The original reason for this 190 metre contour and the no development above it is, apparently, unknown. City planners / developers at our April 26 meeting suggested it was because installing services (sewage, plumbing, etc) above that line was once too expensive. It is still expensive, we were told, but by creating a high density residential area the developer could make it pay. Even though that development would have to include blasting and expensive service lines and additional costs associated with the construction of a high rise condo/apartment in an elevated area that is already subject to bad water pressure and high winds?

The City of St. John’s has already passed an amendment that allows development above the 190 metre contour line but that does not mean it’s right. Some of us believe the original reasoning was actually environmental because, when you think about it, stripping away the trees and topsoil on the tops of every hill surrounding the area’s cities removes the natural sponge that soaks up Spring snow melt and heavy rainfall. Development over the last decade has already meant more flooding in low lying areas around the metropolitan areas so why continue to add to the problem?

I write this today to share these concerns with you. And to let you know that there are many of us growing increasingly alarmed about the lack of thought and long range planning going into development all over the Avalon but particularly in St. John ‘s, Mt. Pearl, Paradise, and Portugal Cove/St. Phillips. So much has been mismanaged in this province. Does it have to remain so?

While several at our public briefing session expressed that they weren’t against development per se, all expressed concern about the current and seemingly thoughtless clear-cutting form of development. A form of development that leaves many subdivisions empty of trees with only three inches of topsoil atop rocky fill, which, as one local resident pointed out, makes growing anything on this windy hill top, problematic and challenging.

An article, “Unwelcome wagon: Kenmount Hill resident air worries about commercial development” appeared in May 2, 2018 edition of The Pearl. And while the article does a good job at presenting much of what occurred at the meeting the public at this meeting were not unwelcoming. In fact, I was impressed with the polite and often very good natured approach many speakers took at that meeting, but it is true most of us did not welcome the proposed scheme as it was laid out before us.

There is nothing wrong in expressing concerns about development in our neighbourhoods. Or to request to be better and more timely informed about development plans. Or to even ask for more opportunities to offer input alongside developers and city planners. Afterall, this is where WE live and if we, the public, don’t ask city and provincial planning offices for a more comprehensive, cohesive, and tree-filled approach to development, who will?

Thanks for your time,

Pam Coristine