So Moved, St. John’s: 5 April 2021

Things really ramped up this week in comparison to the previously sleepy state of Council Meetings through winter 2021.

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Municipal Vermouth

Mary Dalton was back this week with more poetry (she read Osmotic), and an announcement that the next three Council meetings will host, one at a time, three other fine poets: Don McKay, Anna Swanson, and Patrick Warner

I am a big fan of starting meetings this way. It would be really cool to see the practice become firmly attached to our weekly civic ritual, and expanded to include visual and auditory work as well. 

Things really ramped up this week in comparison to the previously sleepy state of Council Meetings through winter 2021. Main discussion topics were the City’s river trails and how they fit into the Bike Master Plan, a shift in how we approach regulating heritage conservation, and the row houses portion of the Parish Lane development. 

Municipal Hors d’Oeuvres

Serving these up quick and dirty:

  • Jungle Jim’s on Topsail Road is getting a deck. Get ready to enjoy cheap lagers while a fine spray of silt blows through your hair from the 4-lane arterial. 
  • A residential driveway in the Goulds is looking to be paved, but is located partially in a floodplain. Cllr Collins assures us that if it’s kept at the same grade, and is backfilled properly with blast rock under class A, it shouldn’t be a problem. The matter is being sent on to the Environment and Sustainability Experts Panel for review.
  • The City’s Traffic Calming policy is being reviewed. There are 12 policy update areas that will proceed to public engagement before final update recommendations are given to Council. If you have been impacted or are concerned about traffic that is indeed not calm, I’d recommend weighing in here. Based on the current record, it’s the chance of a decade.
  • Cllr Froude gave notice of motion: parking of cars on front lawns to be prohibited. Parking your car on a side or rear yard would still be okay though. Just not if it’s a commercial vehicle, or broken/unused. 
  • Stephen Dinn and Glenn Normore have been appointed to the Board of Directors of St. John’s Sports & Entertainment Ltd.

River Trails and The Bike Master Plan

Cllr Ian Froude brought forward a motion on Monday (following the Notice of Motion put on the record last week) to have City staff “undertake a comprehensive public engagement process regarding the future use of the Rennie’s River Trail (RRT) and the Virginia River Trail (VRT) as a shared-use path and/or a bike path.”

It stipulates that consideration be given to potential alternative routes that achieve north-south connectivity required for an effective network.

The motion was unanimously approved. This engagement work will take place when the proposed projects on the RRT and the VRT are being seriously considered—so, an undetermined point of time in the future. 

Cllr Froude is “personally not convinced it makes sense to allow bicycles on the extent of these trails,” but he stated that there are “many with various abilities and disabilities who should be able to use much more of our city than they do now.” Similar noises were made by Cllr Korab, Deputy Mayor O’Leary (who’s back at the table following her provincial election run), Cllr Hickman, and Mayor Breen.

Mayor Breen acknowledged that premature discussions about how the RRT and VRT will fit into the Bike Master Plan somewhat detracted from engagement that was meant to be focused on the Kelly’s Brook Trail alone.  

On that topic, the Kelly’s Brook Shared-Use Path will be using an asphalt surface treatment for its full length. This will create east-west connectivity from Columbus Drive to King’s Bridge Road, and will pass behind the Community Market. A section of Empire Avenue will be used for this pathway, instead of the lower section of the Rennie’s River Trail. Cllr Korab says this is a good example of staff and council listening to what people want, and that public engagement was successful.

The decision to pave is backed by the Senior’s Advisory Committee, The Inclusion and Accessibility Committee, and the Environment and Sustainability Expert’s Panel. It maximizes accessibility and “is significantly lower-maintenance than the alternative polymer gravel surfaces that were explored,” said Cllr Froude. 

If everything goes according to plan, this work will be completed in 2022—largely through cost-sharing with the Province and the Federal Government. (Mayor Breen believes that between the two of them, they’re covering 83% of the costs here.)

Back To The Future Heritage Regulation

In Cllr Burton’s absence, Chief Municipal Planner Ken O’Brien brought good tidings: the draft Heritage By-Law is ready for public review and comment. Council approved the next step: A virtual public meeting, chaired by an independent facilitator, to be held later this month.

In 1977, St. John’s enacted one of the first Heritage By-Laws in Canada. This by-law was later replaced by “heritage provisions in the St. John’s development regulations, where they currently exist,” said O’Brien.

Returning to a by-law (instead of provisions in the regs) is happening because the City of St. John’s Act (to which by-laws are attached) is quite strong when it comes to built heritage and will likely allow for better enforcement. “It probably provides a more solid foundation than the Urban and Rural Planning Act,” said O”Brien, which doesn’t even use the terms heritage or built heritage. 

The new by-law will be beefier (with better design-standard marbling, especially for non-residential Heritage Buildings) than what currently exists, and the Built Heritage Experts Panel will live on. Heritage Areas will be continued, with one slight change: The Battery neighbourhood will get its very own designated Area because of its unique features. 

Heritage Reports, similar to Land Use Assessment Reports, will become a thing, in order to understand the impacts of a development on a Heritage Area or designated Heritage Building. 

Cllr Skinner is glad to see this, as he feels that “we’ve lost part of the fabric of the city” in the absence of a strong by-law on this front. He also flagged the importance of the timeliness of this, in advance of “a bunch of properties, [he] would suggest to you, from the Catholic Church, that are going to come forward based upon some recent court decisions.”

They’re aiming to coordinate the approval of the new by-law with the approval of Envision St. John’s Plan and Regulations, to avoid any gap in protections for built heritage. 

In the staff’s decision note, it says that the NL Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Municipalities recently gave a provincial release for Envision—a whopping two years after they were approved in-principle by Council. That’s a seriously pathetic turn-around time. But PRAISE BE! Once some revisions are made, our new development regulations and municipal plan will come before Council for adoption and referral to a commissioner’s public hearing. At long last!

Parish Lane Update

The Province gave its blessing for the City to move forward with the proposed Municipal Plan and Development Regulation amendments that would allow the southern, Queen’s Road portion of the Parish Lane vision—three townhouses (attaching to the existing house at the west end of the hall).

Heritage NL is on board, and in their opinion (from the Decision Note), “the structure has lost most of its architectural heritage value due to past loss and renovations due to fire […]. They agree that the proposed townhouses fit with the character and scale of the National Historic District.” They did have a few recommendations:

  • Develop a management plan for the Ecclesiastical District National Historic Site, with stakeholders, to ensure that future development is sympathetic to its heritage values.
  • Make serious attempts to salvage as much of the usable building fabric as possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (wow!).
  • Create interpretive materials to tell the story of the Parish Hall and former Anglican School.
  • Document the structure, prior to and during demolition.

The Provincial Archaeology Office will monitor the removal of the Parish hall’s foundations and footings, and future groundworks.

Municipal Brandy

A rezoning was approved to allow for three 1-storey townhouses at 142 Old Pennywell Road. Without resistance, or NIMBY fanfare. This is worth savouring. 

Deputy Mayor O’Leary brought forward a resolution to support a healthy ecosystem for local journalism, which was unanimously approved. She said the Mayor’s Office and some Council colleagues were approached by a local representative—Jeff Ducharme—of an organization called, in advance of the UN’s World Press Freedom Day (May 3rd). The group (composed of frustrated former-Waterloo Region Record newsroom staffers), is asking municipal councils across Canada “to pass a resolution acknowledging that robust local news media are essential for democracy to thrive,” and also have started a petition. [N.B.: we couldn’t agree more. —EDITOR.] Seventeen other municipalities in Ontario and BC have already supported the resolution.

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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