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Municipal Cognac

I Am Writing A Spell For Your Nervous System was read aloud by the poet who penned it — Anna Swanson — to an absolutely gorgeous video today at the beginning of Council’s meeting. It’s all about the healing power of swimming.

From introduction: “When I get overwhelmed, or sad, or anxious, or disconnected, one of the things I do to calm my nervous system is swimming outdoors in local rivers or ponds.” 

Me, too, Anna. Would highly recommend taking a look: starts at 7:25.  

I needed this bit of zen before launching into the meeting. It was a hefty one. We’ve got good news for affordable housing initiatives, a couple of contrasting rezoning items both on the outskirts of town and in the city centre, the Re-Imagine Churchill Square concept plan, and some adjuncts of note. 

April: Child Abuse Prevention Month

In the proclamation, Mayor Danny Breen “emphasize[d] the importance of understanding the devastating problem of child abuse and neglect; and commit[ted] to learn more about the behavioural and physical signs of possible abuse.”

Bev Moore Davis, survivor, advocate, founder of The Miles for Smiles Foundation, and author of White Picket Monsters, spoke briefly to Council to highlight the importance of this month. To the proclamation, she added: “One third of Canadians experience some form of child abuse before the age of 15. […] 90% of all cases of child abuse go unreported. So, 10 out of 100 cases get reported, and fewer see any form of legal justification.” 

The NL Children, Youth and Families Act (CYFA) requires the public to report a concern if it is believed that a child or youth is, or may be, in need of protective intervention. Details can be found at this link.

Interest Free Payment Plan

“The creation of a monthly interest-free payment program for residential taxpayers whose accounts are current and are set up for a pre-authorized payment option only,” was approved on Monday.

Typically, when you receive your property tax bill in January, it has to be paid by the end of February to avoid interest. If the St. John’s winter malaise distracts you, or the amount is beyond your budget at that time, you’re looking at ~$60 extra over the course of a year to square up (using the staff’s example of a home valued at $300,000).

For the 2,000 accounts currently on pre-authorized payment plans (that are paying interest under the traditional system), sticking with the staff’s example of $300k as an average house value in the City, the loss of interest revenue to the City will be ~$120,000. No one should be complaining about this — charging interest on municipal taxes, just because someone can’t do it in one lump sum, feels like something that should have been illegal.

Cllr Hanlon shared that it costs her $300 in fees from her bank, in order for the bank to pay the tax bill on her behalf — a popular option among residents. She’s really glad to see this implemented. 

Affordable Housing Catalyst Grant 

A partnership last fall with the Community Housing Transformation Centre tripled the number of dollars for this fund, both in total (now $150k) and the maximum amount available to applicants ($30k).

Deputy Mayor O’Leary introduced the recommended allocations for 2021, and made the motion to approve (which it was). Here’s what we have to look forward to in the local affordable housing community:

New Residential Development — 130 Aberdeen Ave.

York Development Inc. wants to build a subdivision next to the Stavanger Drive Walmart. They needed a rezoning from Commercial Regional (CR) to Apartment Medium Density (A2) and Residential High Density (R3), which was approved on Monday.

What I really like about this new neighbourhood is that it’s walking distance to shops and restaurants, and has lots of different types of housing. We’ve got single detached, semi-detached, townhouses, and apartment buildings. Positively fantastic, coming straight from a developer. We need more neighbourhoods (and residents) to embrace inclusionary zoning like this. 

What I really don’t like about the proposal is that it’s urban sprawl. 

The St. John’s International Airport Authority was invited to provide feedback in relation to the Noise Exposure Forecast (NEF) system and Transport Canada’s recommendations. They say new residential development is not suitable above 30 NEF. The section south of the thick yellow line in the following image experiences aircraft noise of 30 – 35 NEF. According to Transport Canada, annoyance caused by aircraft noise may begin as low as NEF 25. 

In their submission to City planning staff, York Countered by saying “mitigative measures will be undertaken during dwelling construction to increase the liveability of dwellings on the small part of the site within the 30 – 35 dB NEF contour band.” They got a noise impact assessment study done that supports this approach. The sound insulation measures proposed are in line with Transport Canada’s cautions, for those who choose to proceed contrary to their recommendation. 

Ultimately, the decision is up to the City, and is bound by really old NEF mapping from the 90s, in the pre-historic Northeast Avalon Regional Plan. But the mitigative measures do hold water in the purview of the City’s Planning and Development Division. 

The motion put forward includes a direction to staff to work with the Airport Authority and the Province to figure out and agree on best practice, and bring recommendations back to Council; and, while we’re waiting on that, any other development applications above the 30 NEF line be deferred. 

Cllr Froude and Deputy Mayor O’Leary were not supportive of the rezoning portion of the motion prior to these items being completed. Everyone else gave their ‘yay’. 

Churchill Square Concept Plan

Stakeholders were engaged, the plan was released, aired for public comment, and brought before Council. And now it’s been approved, unanimously. 

Re-Imagine Churchill Square, the final concept report for which was done by Mills & Wright Landscape Architecture, kinda feels like it’s lacking the ‘Re’ part of its title. The Main Pedestrian Plaza looks to be a lovely enhancement, but so tiny. 

Cllr Froude noted that there is “quite a bit of excitement in the neighbourhood as well as from the business association for these changes,” but also recognizes, “there are some concerns with the plan as presented.” Lighting, the desire for more pedestrian spaces, and much less parking were mentioned. He feels that this is “a good balance, and a good step forward,” especially with the parkette program that can borrow parking stalls for outdoor retail and restaurant usage.  

Churchill Park across the street, and connectivity between it and the Square, will be looked at in a second Phase of this effort.

“The overall estimated cost for design and construction of the concept plan shown above is in the order of $3,225,100,” states staff’s Decision Note. Wild! This project will go into the “longlist for capital works issues and requests,” according to Mayor Breen, and we have to wait and see how long that’ll take. 

Infill Density Decision on Shaw Street

An application to rezone the property at number 22 from Residential — Special (RA) to Residential High Density (R3), for the construction of a semi-detached dwelling (duplex) was discussed, and ultimately deferred to make room for public consultation. Images below shows the location, and a rendering of what’s being proposed.

The submissions on this one were particularly classist in nature. One submission had a five-part multi-layered narrative, with executive summary and schedules (a) though (h) attached, signed by 11 neighbours. I can’t even begin to imagine the terror they experience, when faced with the possible construction of one duplex, and the horrible people who only live in duplexes.

Staff’s recommendation is to move forward with the rezoning, and item by item, they very calmly and rationally dismantled the arguments put forth by nearby residents. I love lines like this: “The City’s Development and Engineering staff do not share this concern,” and, “Staff do not draw this [housing character] distinction along Shaw Street — we evaluate the neighbourhood as a whole.”

Unsurprisingly, Cllr Korab put forward a motion to reject the rezoning, mainly because he thinks the space is too small, some trees would be impacted, and the neighbours want nothing but R1 (single detached dwelling). Disappointingly, Cllr Hickman seconded. 

Deputy Mayor O’Leary voiced the need to prioritize mixed-use development in residential neighbourhoods, but rather than reject or approve right now, she wants to see this go to public engagement. Chief Planner Ken O’Brien noted that given the extensive and thorough written feedback they’ve already received from the neighbourhood, he doesn’t know that a public engagement session would provide any new information. 

Cllr Skinner brought attention to the surrounding zoning: you can see that 22 Shaw is an RA island in a sea of R3. 

Cllrs Skinner, Hanlon, Froude, and Collins were not supportive of Cllr Korab’s motion. So, Korab withdrew it, and replaced it with a new one to go to a public meeting, which passed.  

Cllr Burton (Planning & Development lead) might be off on maternity leave, but she’s still dishing up on-point, relevant, and timely content on social media. She shared a New York Times opinion piece, The ‘New Redlining’ Is Deciding Who Lives in Your Neighborhood, on Monday, along with this commentary:

I think it’s a very poignant summary of what we saw in Monday’s council meeting: a big thumbs up for sprawl (Aberdeen Ave.) and something as tame as a duplex struggling to get approved (Shaw Street).

From the article:

“…The most restrictive zoning is found in politically liberal cities, where racial views are more progressive. As Harvard’s Michael Sandel has noted, social psychologists have found that highly-educated elites “may denounce racism and sexism but are unapologetic about their negative attitudes toward the less educated.” Class discrimination helps explain why, despite a 25 percent decline in Black-white residential segregation since 1970, income segregation has more than doubled.”

Municipal Brandy

It’s volunteer week! “More than 46% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians over the age of 15 contribute an average of 151 volunteer hours each year, resulting in a significant and positive impact on the quality of life for our citizens,” the proclamation read. The 2021 Building Healthy Communities Volunteer Award was presented to Hanna Murphy (youth recipient), with the City’s Together in Movement and Exercise Program, and Charles Murphy (adult recipient), co-founder of Raise Up Fundraising and Quadrangle, and part of innumerable other community groups. 

Vu Resto Bar at 115 Duckworth — where I stood in 1994 to watch the Santa Claus Parade; can’t remember what used to be in that building; bit disappointed in myself — is getting an Outdoor Eating Area and Lounge, in their parking lot. Temporary parking relief will be provided for the six spaces it will take up, there will be no outdoor speakers for music, nor any invasive lighting.

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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Jess Puddister is The Independent's Municipal Correspondent, writing a weekly column titled, So Moved, St. John's. She's been working with Newfoundland and Labrador municipalities since 2017 mainly on climate change response strategy, eco-asset management planning, and sustainable development advocacy.