So Moved, St. John’s: 7 June 2021

Jurisdictional issues relating to accessibility are a great example of how the City’s limited authority sounds the death knell of good things.

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Since Jess Puddister declared last week that she intends to seek election to the council she’s been covering, I’ll be hanging out in this space each week to let you know what happened on New Gower Street and why you should give a damn.

Monday’s council meeting began with technical difficulties: no audio coming through on the live stream. Your faithful municipal correspondent panicked and struggled to read Mayor Breen’s lips. After a brief pause, order was restored and the meeting carried on with only the procedural parts of the agenda—plus a private pool in Quidi Vidi—having been approved.

Rampant Ramp Concerns

The Newfoundland Chocolate Company in the Torbay Road mall applied to build a deck. Last week, Cllr Stapleton asked for deferral so that accessibility concerns could be discussed with the applicant regarding access to the sidewalk outside the mall. It was unclear from Cllr Stapleton’s commentary, but it would appear from my reading that because the sidewalk is on private property it falls under the province’s jurisdiction. So while the deck itself has a ramp, council can’t insist that the sidewalk around it be made accessible with ramps to get around the deck area. If you, like me, enjoy spending beautiful sunny days pouring over legislation, you can find the provincial regulations concerning “exterior paths of travel” here. The tl;dr is that said paths “[must] have changes in elevation greater than 13 millimetres accomplished by means of a ramp.”

Jurisdictional issues relating to accessibility are not well understood by—well, anyone, and this is a great example of how the City’s limited authority sounds the death knell of good things. Cllr Stapleton asked for deferral with noble intentions (ostensibly to require the applicant to construct an accessible sidewalk around the patio), but was stymied because the City is so constrained in what it has control over. This is literally why we can’t have nice things. It’s also why residents get so frustrated when they ask the City to address issues that most modern municipalities can manage—only to find themselves redirected to a much murkier provincial bureaucracy.

Hot Food Summer; or, Give Me Parking or Give Me Death

Two Ward 2 businesses have their summer plans before council this week. The first is 50 Bonaventure Ave, the Georgetown Inn, asking to add a take-out to their tea room. The application is for 3 hours per day, Friday-Sunday. Yes, that’s nine hours per week. The applicant says there will be 15 minutes between pick-up times and there are 4 parking spaces available. Nevertheless, this caused eight residents to write in (almost one per weekly hour of operation!) one of which insisted that the neighbourhood was “RESIDENTIAL.” Cllr Froude wisely pointed out that there are indeed two places around the corner where one can take food to go. I would add that there is a mechanic shop, two schools, a graveyard, the tool library, a pub… Residential, indeed. The other main concern raised in the submission was, of course, that they themselves, or any of their guests, might at some theoretical future point be denied access to a piece of publicly owned and maintained pavement immediately outside their home and thus be forced to walk some distance. 

For a small fee, I will simply show up to each council meeting and shout “PARKING!” during Notices Published. I promise it will save us all time and money. The parking objections, according to deputy city manager of planning and engineering Jason Sinyard, formed part of the reason staff recommended rejection of the take out. How many excellent ideas have died in this city because of the idea that one is entitled to the unfettered use of this piece of public property? 

Cllr Burton very reasonably suggested trimming the times permitted to weekends only, bringing the nine weekly hours of operation down to six. Others seemed OK with that but found the indefinite period a bridge too far. Cllr Froude offered a friendly amendment to allow the take-out only until the end of September. Motion passed.

Second up is an application for five food trucks and a beer tent in Quidi Vidi. While those outside the Village might hear this and shout “yes b’y!” those in the Village shout, predictably, “PARKING!”  Which, in this part of town so much older than the automobile itself, is somewhat understandable. No trouble, the applicant will provide a shuttle service into and out of the Village at no cost. This seems to assuage Council’s concerns. Several of the 15 submissions regarding the application shared concerns about the presence of business activity in the village at all. Cllr Skinner pointed out that there has been industry in the Gut in the form of fish harvesting and processing long before food trucks or breweries. Motion approved.

One notable objection raised to both these applications was that these food service operations would attract vermin. Is the assumption that every restaurant comes with rodents? Do these people still eat in restaurants if they think so? I wonder.

A Maze of Public-Private Partnerships

There’s a proposal to cost-share the paving of the path around Kenny’s Pond with the folks who own the Kenny’s Pond retirement residence and nearby Tiffany Village. Council seems enthused, owing to the “incredible density of seniors in the area,” according to the deputy mayor. Throngs of seniors! A deluge of elderly individuals!

In all seriousness though, this is a very good thing: there are nowhere near enough accessible trails in the city and 60/40 cost sharing is an excellent value for money proposition. There is some concern about whether bikes should or should not be permitted. There will be an adjacent gravel path for kids to cycle to the nearby schools, but the paved trail is to be bike-free for the moment. This is a point which Cllr Hickman seems to find objectionable, but not enough to vote against the project—which is unanimously approved.

Last on the agenda is a proposal for a labyrinth in Bowring Park. The decision note explains in some detail the mental health benefits of walking in a labyrinth, which to me sounds like a claustrophobic nightmare, but I’m not here to tell you how to relax. Several councillors offer “bouquets” to Cllr Hickman for finding a sponsor for this project. The common thread for both these projects would seem to be a level of private partnership as the tipping point for them getting on the agenda, a signal that in lean times the projects that get built are the ones private interests support. This may not necessarily be a bad thing: accessible trail! But it is worthy of note since our collective finances appear to be quite firmly lodged in the shitter for some years to come.

Municipal Brandy

Not on the agenda but yet remarkable is the release that went out earlier on Monday, signed by Mayor Breen and other Northeast Avalon mayors, “calling on all the partners in industry and government to invest in our people, our industry and our communities by coming to a resolution that will see the Terra Nova project move into its new life of productivity.” It would seem that no level of government is exempt from the perplexing yo-yo between, “we are experiencing a climate change emergency” and  “let’s find the biggest shovel we can for throwing money at the oil industry.”

The worst part here is that there would have been utterly no consequence for remaining silent: the province’s actions on this file will ultimately be taken regardless of what municipalities say about it. Far more than adding one more refrain to the chorus of voices singing the same damn song about begging industry to exploit us, the statement made clear the mayors’ stance on whether we should cling by our fingernails to this dying industry, or choose a livable planet. We really can’t have both, and the opportunity costs of continuing to fork over more and more subsidies come at the expense of investments in our future. The statement was unnecessary virtue (vice?) signalling for the old paradigm, and a disappointing move when the St. John’s municipal council has a unanimously supported position on climate change.

Put down the shovel, folks. Time to stop digging that hole and build something new.

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