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Mayor Breen opened Monday’s council meeting with a comment on the passing of former Mayor Andy Wells last week, describing the late mayor as, “larger than life.” He mentioned that Wells served 30 years on council, and credited Wells with the introduction of the service that eventually became 311 and the associated mobile app, so next time you report an overflowing garbage bin or illegally parked car, you can thank Andy. On Twitter last week Cllr Burton paid tribute as well to Wells’ love of cats and dogs. I personally recall when my friends and I rented a Metrobus to take to our graduation, we saw then-Mayor Wells walking on Water St. and yelled at the driver to pull over, which he did, and asked the mayor to get on, which he also did, and rode with us all the way to grad. Say what you will about Mayor Wells, he knew how to have a time.

Fireworks Finally Fizzle Out; Quieting Quidi Vidi; Nothing but Net in Airport Heights

Mayor Breen called the meeting to order and then came back for the land acknowledgement before proceeding with the agenda. It kicked off with the final vote on the fireworks by-law, which will restrict your home-based intentional explosions to Canada Day and New Year’s Eve— weather permitting—between 7:30 PM and 12:30 AM. Otherwise you’re going to have to apply for a special events license. Motion passed with Cllrs Burton and Froude voting against. The by-law comes into effect at 12:01 AM on December 31, 2021, so you have a few months to discharge pyrotechnics at random if you need to get that out of your system. Only, no, please, don’t do that.

The Legion on the Boulevard near Quidi Vidi Lake will be getting in on the patio action this summer; while the original proposal would have had the patio open some nights until 3:00 AM, a handful of neighbours wrote very measured submissions suggesting that while the patio was fine, perhaps that was a bit late, and staff agreed. Patio is approved to operate until 11:00 PM in line with the downtown parklet program and the City’s noise by-law. Motion carried unanimously.

Airport Heights will be getting a new basketball court, on the site where once stood the community centre on McNiven Place in Denis Lawlor Park, the demolition of which was approved by council in January of 2018. $47,000 will be allocated from the parks and open spaces reserve, money from which seems to be flowing a bit freer these days, perhaps due to the point we’re at in the election cycle. It’s mentioned in the decision note that Roncalli Elementary in the neighbourhood has a court for players under 12, but older kids and adults wanted a place to dribble and dunk—and get one they shall.

Council Opts for Aging Gracefully

Council unanimously approved the referral of a text amendment to the development regulations that would add personal care homes as a discretionary use in several residential zones. This came up due to an application by L’Arche Avalon, a group which provides homes and  support services for individuals with intellectual disabilities, to build two L’Arche homes—each housing four individuals with disabilities and four assistants—on part of the Canada Lands Company property in Pleasantville. This follows the recommendation in the municipal plan to allow personal care homes in medium and high density residential neighbourhoods, at a scale that conforms with the surrounding area, to facilitate aging in place for residents. Cllr Burton put it clearly, “[aging in place] means when you live in a neighbourhood, you should be able to stay there.”

This is an instance where a change is prompted by a particular application, but the change suggested has impacts beyond that specific development. Discretionary uses, rezonings and the like are all considered on their individual merits; “case law,” as it were, does not apply to these sorts of decisions by council. On the other hand, changes to the development regulations—as is being considered here—literally change the rules about what you can and can’t do in a particular zone. 

In this case what you will be able to do, if this change is approved, is move into a care home in your neighbourhood when you need some additional help due to age or disability. If approved, this particular application would then go through the approval process for the discretionary use—which will happen concurrently with the text amendment, for expediency’s sake—and finally the development approval stage. For the moment, the text amendment is to be referred to a public meeting and then will come back to council for consideration at a later date.

Going Green and Getting Green

Next, Cllr Froude introduces a proposal to begin tackling the City’s corporate energy use. In a wonderfully detailed decision note, sustainability coordinator Edmundo Fausto lays out the case for a “self-funded” energy savings and building modernization program. What is proposed is effectively a performance-based contract with a private-sector third party who gets paid through realizing energy savings for the City. Those savings get paid out to the partner for the duration of the contract, and after the contract period ends, it’s all gravy for the City, with a healthy seasoning of lower GHG emissions. Included in the package is an “opportunity assessment” detailing where the City’s energy spending is currently going and the financial impacts of making the required improvements. 

To explain it in simple terms: the City is going to find a private-sector partner to assume all of the risk and absorb some of the reward, for a time-limited period, of undertaking a wholesale retrofit of the City’s buildings with an eye to improving efficiency and comfort for users. Part of the partner’s work will be to seek out grant programs to cover costs on the City’s end, with any additional funds to come from a financing program.

In short: this rules. It would be nigh on impossible to come up with the infusion of capital required to take on a project of this magnitude without getting creative, which is exactly what this proposal does. Motion carried unanimously.

Cars Rule Everything Around Me

Tenders were approved for roads rehabilitation to the tune of $10,181,736.03 with hardly a word of discussion. Let’s all remember that figure when people strenuously object to spending +/- 10% of that on clearing snow from sidewalks, shall we?

Municipal Brandy

During the go-round, Cllr Burton read a passage from disability advocate Lisa Walters of @AccessYYT’s article published last week in The Independent, saying she wanted to “honour Lisa’s experience and highlight the good work that she’s doing to bring awareness to the ongoing need to make the city more accessible.”  I will leave you with this excerpt from Lisa’s powerful piece today because it bears repeating:

“Picture this: we live in a city—a province—that has already considered our access needs. Of course there are ramps, automatic doors, braille menus, and safer pedestrian crossings, among other things. I go out with my friends for a day of exploring St. John’s and I don’t have to hold back tears on a Duckworth Street sidewalk because everything around me is so inaccessible. I just exist in my city the way everyone who isn’t physically disabled does, because the infrastructure is there to allow me to take part in society alongside them. I’d be really happy to wake up someday in a St. John’s like that and to find there is no longer a need for Access YYT. But that honestly feels like a pipe dream at the moment.”

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Hope Jamieson is a municipal correspondent with The Independent, covering city council meetings in the weekly column, So Moved, St. John's. She served as Ward 2 Councillor from 2017 to 2020. Hope works in the affordable housing sector, and is dedicated to poverty reduction, social equity, and inclusion. She lives in St. John's with her partner and their three children.