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Notes From the Rafters: War and Peace Edition (26/10/2020)

in Featured/Notes From the Rafters by

This is a throwback meeting. It was LONG and FULL and I have news that you have to read all the way to the bottom to hear. And I refuse to leave out anything this week so getting to the bottom will be quite a challenge. I have labelled each section to aid in deciding what to skip. 

It is a full slate. Everyone is present. Even the new Ward 2 councillor, Shawn Skinner, with his “at-large” vibes. He was sworn in, but he was not in the frame of the live stream for the swearing. Welcome to Covid Council, LOL. 

Skinner did manage to point out, more than once, that he has already been on council, back in 1993. Le sigh. Was the return of the Animaniacs a harbinger? What else is about to reprise from the early 90s? [Retrieves Girbauds out of storage with a hopeful air]

Speaking of Elections… 

Cllr Froude Moves the Election Finance Amendment by-law (as per his notice of motion last week). Council discussed making changes in 2019. This is the by-law by-product of those discussions. The gist of which is:

  • Donations must be made only in the election year. 
  • Donations must be disclosed within 30 days (down from 90)
  • Reduces total donations from corporations or trade unions (cannot now be more than 50% of your total. This will be further reduced to zilch by 2025)
  • Candidates must disclose all individual contributions over $100 (down from $250)
  • Individuals cannot donate more than $1000 (down from $2000) to any campaign. 

Froude explained the changes are intended to “level the playing field,” to “enable and encourage diversity in [the] chamber” by limiting union and corporate donations, and to deal with both the possibility of influence and also the perception of influence. 

Cllr Burton spoke about the process. Their committee quantified the “real cost” of past winning campaigns to make sure it would still be possible, under the new by-law, for a new name to have a chance. All the councillors acknowledged it does take money to run a campaign.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary thanked the Citizens’ Assembly for Stronger Elections (CASE NL) and especially Simon Lono who has passed away but “worked so hard” to contribute to the process.

Mayor Dan thanked the external subcommittee and also the subcommittee of council (himself, Lane, Froude, Burton). He smiled wryly—nay, nostalgically—saying, “we had lots of healthy debates, didn’t we Cllr Burton?” He emphasized that corporate donations will be phased out completely by 2025.

Cllr Hickman explained his lone “no” vote. He does support the improved transparency but says he is “cautious about this for new candidates” because he believes the amendment will make it too hard for “new folks” to run since they “rely on their friends” to support them, and those friends “have small businesses” and now those businesses “can’t support that.” He reiterates that they can only get $100 now from friends and so it is “more personally financed than before.” Though, if I am reading the amendment correctly, a friend who owns a small business can still donate (up to 1000$) to someone’s campaign, they just have to donate as an individual and they would just have to disclose that donation publicly. The money cannot come from their business and cannot be made anonymously. 

And there you go, election finance reform. Done-zo. 

Now Who’s Doing What Where

9 Kerry St. Will continue to non-conform but now as a TV support and production facility. The Green Room Inc (which, though clearly named to conjure up images of live TV shows and celebrities chatting and eating fruit baskets, is more likely here in SJ to elicit initial assumptions of a grow op.)

Cllr Froude says all concerns expressed by neighbours are being addressed:

  • There is no filming on site. It will be used for accounting, a writers room, and storage of props and wardrobe
  • All of which stored stuff will be moved on and off site infrequently, within business hours and without the use of any heavy vehicles.

Kerry St is on the city’s list for (eventual) traffic calming, but while it is “a ways away from being addressed,” this new building usage should not affect those issues. But perhaps the corner Breen’s will see a little fresh lunch action from the 3 lucky employees now working next to the deli.

13 Cherry Hill Rd. is approved for a Home Occupation for Wellness Coaching: therapeutic stretch, Reiki, coaching. It will have only 1 employee, provide onsite parking and there will be no overlap in clients. All 3 submissions were supportive. Nothing funny here, and yay to small businesses making the most of what they have and working where and when they can. But Deputy Mayor O’Leary inadvertently winked at a (very dark) shadow of humour when she chimed in to support this as fitting into the city’s “Healthy Communities mandate.” Which, while not untrue, puts the various definitions of “healthy” into stark relief given the crisis of food and housing insecurity our city is experiencing.

23 Duffy Pl. will install a wireless communication facility on the west side of the current building. No submissions received because it’s Duffy Place. 

350 Torbay Rd: Though some of the neighbours in the hood just behind this large strip mall objected to this application for warehouse use (packaging pharmaceuticals for long term care facilities with 15-20 people onsite at a time), most of their concerns were about large trucks and the applicant has said they will be using only smaller vans for pick-up and delivery.

Query on a Quarry?

Coady’s Construction would like to get at it before winter on 40 hectares of a mineral quarry just north of the TCH past the Fox Trap Access Road. 

Deputy Mayor O’Leary reminds council that she had requested (maybe a year ago now?) that all these quarry applications be sent to neighbouring municipalities on the North East Avalon as a courtesy so they can forward any concerns or information on to our council before a vote. The other municipalities have no formal say in these votes, but they had requested this courtesy and O’Leary had brought that request to council.

She says she thought it was made clear the last time that staff should have been looping in the member municipalities of the North East Avalon Group. It was not and they have not. 

But God love ‘em, it is near impossible for the room to figure out if the deputy mayor is even making a motion most days or just taking up mic time to make sure she also says she knows such and such or would also like to thank so and so. She works her bangs off but brevity and clarity are not often her weapons. (Pot calling kettle black here, I am deeply aware.)

This time, after multiple back-and-forths with Mayor Dan trying to get clear on what was being asked, it finally got sorted and from now on the city staff will route quarry submissions through our neighbouring municipalities.

Staffer O’Brien clarified for Mayor Dan (who asked if some protocol was already specified under the Urban and Rural Planning Act) that if there is a regional agreement then neighbouring municipalities would be informed, but only if the quarry was near their border, here the quarry is not near anything.

After yet more back and forth, including a priceless look on Mayor Dan’s face when Cllr Collins (for the millionth time) couldn’t quite figure out his mic, the vote on the quarry was deferred one week to loop in the surrounding town. Even Collins said a one week delay was fine though he did add that Coady’s may need to get their material soon “with winter closing in.”

Finally everyone was on the same page. Except Cllr Korab. He voted against the one week delay. Post-pandemic Korab is getting more and more conservative and contrarian, voting against any deferments, any discussion, any O’Leary. It is nice to have a voice of “Bed’s the place to sleep guys! Delays mean lost revenue for businesses!” on any council but occasionally a vote like this seems more pure Galgay-gadfly than pro-business.

139 Petty Harbour Rd. May build a driveway that edges into the floodplain buffer zone. The new construction residence will not be inside that buffer zone.

138 Lady Smith Dr. and its “Elite”-ism

One residential lot will be rezoned to Apartment Medium Density to accommodate a design for 3 smaller attached townhouses. It was advertised three times and there was one submission against. But it was more an admission than a submission.

The concerned neighbour suggested that any deviation from the cookie-cutter, large, single, unattached lots would: decrease property values and increase crime, along with traffic. They ended their handwritten letter with this gem: “Kenmount Terrace has always been know has [sic] an elite group of people and well maintained housing. It would be a shame to change this.” 

Cllr Burton swiftly flicked this flanker in the butt saying, “staff does not share these concerns and neither do I.”

Cllr Froude addressed the submission’s concerns more directly. He said residents frequently raise the concern that townhouses make property values go down, though he has “never seen evidence for that.” He went on to address head-on the obvious insinuations of these constant submissions that invoke “crime” and “property value.”

Froude said, unequivocally, that “the size, or whether it is attached to another house, says nothing about the quality of the resident or the value of that home.” Froude said it was “bothersome” to keep hearing this and that “Right-sized homes” are good for neighbourhoods and the people in them—seniors as they downsize but want to stay in the area, or folks who just want a smaller house. 

Froude acknowledged that the current speed limit of 50 on Lady Smith Dr is too fast for a residential area, but, as the average speed (47) is below that posted limit, it does not qualify for traffic calming. He is hoping to have a crosswalk installed at the park as some measure of safety.

42-52 Diamond Marsh Drive: Open Space or Housing Lots?

What was originally envisioned as open space for a future park for this subdivision, was rezoned by accident and so water and sewer services etc were run to these lots. Now the developer is asking to go ahead and build on them. This will be sent to both the province and the Environmental and Sustainability Experts Panel and then all considerations raised by both will come back to council. There may be space for a playground to the west, though the area is wet.

Sale of City Land to 21 Myrick. Cllr Collins explains, “yes, a resident wants to buy some city land that’s all. I’m ok with it. It’s only a little piece.”

50 Bonaventure Ave Will Feed Me Treats

This was mentioned last week, but now there is more! Not only does this house hold extensive intangible heritage (neat people owned it and were in it: history!) but the current owners would like to use the new heritage designation to help apply to open a cafe in which they would serve a “proper high tea” three afternoons a week.

If you have never experienced a true high tea, let me get excited on your behalf. There will be SO MANY TINY SANDWICHES! Which happen to be my favourite food. I’d cruise a funeral uninvited for finger sized egg-salad or a cucumber slice with butter on white bread. 

Looks like Cllr Burton agrees as she was almost giddy saying, “this is definitely the most fun thing I’ve read in awhile.” Burton did clarify that they are not applying for the cafe yet, but the city is allowing the heritage use and heritage designation to be advertised together to streamline the process for small businesses.

Cllr Skinner and Mayor Dan both nudge-nudge wink-wink about how the house was owned by a former President of the Benevolent Irish Society. Skinner is also a former president of the BIS. So, expect a lot more of those moments this year. This council meeting isn’t getting shorter and this council isn’t getting younger.

Cllr Korab, who I must presume was not ever a past president of the BIS, nevertheless wanted to join in on the sport and piped up, “I used to be able to see this from where I lived!” He also loves local history.

More Road Closures for Filming The Surrealtor

Check the city website for details. Cllr Hanlon says there are lots of haunted houses around!

Cllr Burton points out that our built heritage is “pretty spooky” given a lot of it is from the Victorian era. It is a reminder to council, when quantifying the benefits of heritage, that a “sense of place” can be an important economic driver.

Cllr Hanlon adds, “there’s lots of spirits at my house; no ghosts though.” Cheers, lady!

The Youth Engagement Action Team is building an engagement strategy for the city that will be developed by youth instead of by the council for youth.

Newly elected Ward 2 councillor Skinner (who is neither young nor a resident of Ward 2 but is thrilled to represent both) says he is fully supportive of working with youth but wanted to know what the definition of youth was in this context. Which is a solid question.

Cllr Burton says, for this effort, it is a wide definition of 14 to 35 as they wanted to capture middle school students through young adults and also graduate level students.

Inclusions Advisory Committee has appointed new members and added in new positions. They have spots on the committee to specifically represent different populations who may have different needs and contribute varied perspectives which include: LGBTQ2S, lived experience of racism, neurological and physical disabilities, mental health issues, and women’s issues.

Built Heritage Experts Panel is also getting new members. One of whom, Nick Lynch from Memorial, has expertise on “sense of place” topics. The title of “Historic Preservationist” will also be added to one of the panel spots.

Community Services Grants Policy. Cllr Korab explains this is a streamlining of 3 policies into 1 for all monies granted by the Department of Community Services to community groups, capital grants, sporting events, individual arts grants, travel grants, etc. There were no objections from the rubber-boots on council so we can assume this does not include any reduction of grants, just a clean-up of policy.

DowwwwwnTowwwwwn Where all the Lights are…. Dim.

I love that Cllr Hanlon is the councillor for the Decorative Street Lighting Committee. I truly believe she adds decorative whimsy to contracts when she signs them, maybe a purple pen? Cllr Hanlon says the results of many detailed meetings about lighting, lightbulbs and decorative fixtures are these: The city and the Downtown St John’s committee will split the bill 50-50 for new light fixtures through the downtown. The current ones are from the 1980s. The new ones will be LED lights and you can see a sample on the corner of George Street. The fixtures “meet the aesthetic requirements developed by the committee” And will be purchased once the 300k that is the city’s half becomes available.

Mayor Dan is pleased, and says he has heard from many people how important lighting is down there for safety, security and to make it look inviting.

2020 Heritage Financial Incentive Program. Cllr Burton says the city has received more applications than ever for this program and they approved 22 of them for grants which means the city will have given out the entire allotted 60k for building and maintenance of structures in heritage areas. Burton encourages everyone who was approved to submit everything needed within two years or the grant could lapse.

Noisy Machines and the Silence of The Provincial Response

Deputy Mayor O’Leary proposes a resolution which boils down to the city, once again, lobby the province to: 

  1. Amend the Highway and Traffic Act to regulate excessively loud vehicles with modifications
  2. Properly resource (funds, equipment, training) the RNC to enforce the current and (hopefully) new regulations.

To recap from many many past articles and discussions: the city is not empowered by the province to have any legal authority to enforce or prosecute any moving violations. Though they have been given authority over parking violations. Because they cannot legally enforce moving violations, they do not have the capacity, training or equipment to do it; they both may not do it and they cannot do it. What they can do is pressure the province to legislate the issue and lobby the RNC to enforce it. 

Everyone on council is frustrated and has been dealing with this for years. Cllr Burton, who did support the motion, added that she would prefer to see decibel levels emphasized over modifications and said there needs to be mandatory testing of moving and idling decibel levels for all vehicles. But she also says she won’t offer any amendments on the resolution today because “if we don’t do something we won’t get nudding done.”

Mayor Dan confirmed that two months ago he had a meeting with Sarah Stoodley (then of Service NL), RNC Deputy Chair Oates, the mayor of Torbay, and representatives from the group Pipe Down NL. Stoodley indicated that Service NL (which is now something else since the Liberal re-org) would make legislative changes to improve enforcement and give the RNC the tools they would need to enforce them. 

As many councils have heard similar in the past, the Mayor emphasizes that this council needs to “continue to be vigilant” and make sure it is followed through.

Cllr Hanlon summed up the desperation of residents with a vignette about a “lady out there with a hairdryer pretending it is a speedometer.”

Go-Round

Cllr Collins wants to make sure the Symes bridge (currently closed to traffic for safety reasons) won’t be decommissioned entirely without a fight. He said he went under it and was “the troll under the bridge” the other day, though he couldn’t get all the way under as his “rubbers weren’t high enough.” He wants to get in on all this heritage stuff to get it designated so it can be repaired or rebuilt once the city has some money again.

Mayor Dan clarified that though it is closed to cars for safety, there are no further plans for it right now. So there is time to figure out a future for the bridge. 

Cllr Korab is upping the virtual pumpkin carving stakes. Send in a picture of you holding your pumpkin masterpiece (so they know you didn’t “just grab a picture off google”) and your skillz could win you one of two Zombiegrams from neighbourhood Dance Works! 

When you are done with pumpkins, masterpieces or not, compost them in your brown bag on recycling day or bring it to the drop off on November 1, from noon to 5 at the bottom of White Hills Rd.

New-Old Councillor Skinner reminds us, again, of his new-old status: “it is a pleasure to be back in the chamber again.” He notes there was no clock counting down the 5 minutes for each in the go-round back in his day. Mayor Dan teases, “So you probably understand why we have one now.”

Skinner thanks people and says that his city email and number are not yet set up but he “is in the phone book.” And he also says “lots of people still have” his contact number from when he was in the provincial government. No mention of social media or anyone who is too young to have “known him” in those days. 

Cllr Stapleton mentions the inclusion committee, which still wants decent sidewalk clearing (which she did not vote for) and says the committee will be recommending improvements for the Downtown Pedestrian mall.

Cllr Hanlon, who is passing off parking to Hickman was happy to end her parking stint with a conclusion to the topless meter saga. Brand new solar, cashless pay-stations are being installed right now. They take credit, debit, tap or insert and you can also use the pay by phone app. They do not take cash, so you still have to have a bank account which, I still say is bogus in a city with this many people struggling. But, cash is no longer king.

She says they do “everything but make you a cup of coffee.” They should be “in play” by November 2, though enforcement will not start until November 16 to give people time to get used to them.

She also said, as per information sent in by Tom Jackman, that Vancouver City Council now allows veterans to park for free at meters. Hanlon would like to figure out some way for us to do that here.

She asks the city to send condolences to the friends of the owner of Gingergrass restaurant who recently passed away peacefully in her sleep. The restaurant will still be open. 

Cllr Hickman welcomes his “old buddy Cllr Skinner” who was a “mentor for me when I first ran for council.” He praised his wisdom, maturity and experience. 

Cllr Burton also welcomed Skinner and offered to help in any way she could with the “weird wild” world of the ward she lives in that he now represents. She also brought attention to the pervasive and troubling food insecurity in our city right now. She says that while it must be addressed with a robust support system, for now we all need to help as we can.  

Deputy Mayor O’Leary is excited about the Pedestrian Mall engagement and how well it went. She is most excited for a change of name. None too soon, as I heard it first referred to as The Pedestrian Mall, then shortened to The Ped Mall, and, inevitably, that became, on occasion, The Pedo Mall.

She also welcomed Cllr Skinner and is looking forward to working with him on affordable housing.

Regarding affordable housing, she addressed the letter to the editor in the Telegram Tuesday morning. She defended the management of the Brother Eagan Park which the author disparaged. She confirmed with the city Parks Manager that much work has been done on that particular park and that it is checked and cleared of litter and dog waste at least 3 times each week. In regards to a perception of “secrecy” around affordable housing developments, she explained that the working group does not publicly post their agenda or minutes as they brainstorm and discuss sensitive and confidential information, premature disclosure of which could “risk potential partnerships and could impact funding opportunities.”

Once an initiative is ready to present, it goes to the council and the public. The particular build mentioned in the letter (a Habitat for Humanity project on Eric St) was submitted to staff at the end of September. Once they have reviewed it, it will go to the Committee of The Whole and then on to face all public comment and engagement.

THE END.

No Really. This is the actual end of Notes from the Rafters. I have a new full time project for the next month or so that, if I don’t completely crumble under the pressure of a regular 9-5, will become permanent. When (if) it does, I will announce it so you will know where to find me and my writing. But, alas, it does not involve me making fun of you and your elected councillors. In the meantime, if you need me to tease you, please send me a message over Twitter and I will tell you what a sad grasper you are. Thank you. I love you. Keep municipal politics anachronistic! When I get fired I will come back and pick this up again. You’re not crying; I’m crying.

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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