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Monday’s city council meeting started off an unusual addition as Mayor Danny Breen was joined by a grade five student from Bishop Field Elementary—she won the Meet the Mayor Contest. With her by his side, he proclaimed November 20 as National Child Day in the City.

Mayor Breen also offered up the gavel for a whack to his fuzzy-pink-coated shadow. She declined, but she did help him countdown to striking the gavel. I, for one, can’t believe a kid didn’t seize the chance at power and proclaim herself as mayor.

She did mumble a message from one of her school friends who is a fan of Mayor Breen. As she walked off screen to applause, he quipped “I have one fan!” and seemed genuinely pleased.

Here Comes the Cash Cab

Then it was to business and first up was the issue around taxi fare increase. Brace yourselves, because the cost to take a taxi is increasing and it comes into effect on January 3, 2022.

Cllr Maggie Burton explained the flag rate—the cost of hailing a cab—will be $3.92 ($4.50 including taxes), with each additional kilometre costing $2.18 ($2.50). Waiting time will be equivalent of $35.22 ($40.50) per hour. She added that applicable municipal, provincial, and federal taxes may be added to and included in the fare shown on the meter. All this amounts to a 23 percent fare increase.

She said that representatives of the local taxi industry asked the City about an increase in rates. She said 95% of all taxi licence holders were consulted, which includes City Wide, Bugden’s, Newfound, Jiffy, and Independent.

“Sustaining the taxi industry and making it a viable business going into the future is very important for a functional transportation network that includes walking, cycling, taking the bus, riding a bike, driving your personal vehicle or using a taxi,” said Cllr Burton.

She argued taxi drivers are feeling a pinch right now and the last time taxi fares were increased was in 2011. Since then there has been a 200% increase in the cost of insurance for taxis (yikes!), as well as an increase in the cost of gas, while the cost of living has also gone up. So if we want to see taxis on the road, a fair increase to rates is the solution to improving the situation.

While this will impact people who use taxis, she said at the end of the day the most important thing is ensuring that taxis can continue to be on the road.

Cllr Ophelia Ravencroft pointed out there has been feedback in the media over the potential impact on people with lower incomes who use taxis and she mentioned she also regularly uses taxis. She has also heard from taxi drivers and how they’ve been impacted, from fewer passengers due to the pandemic, the higher cost of gas, and increase in insurance. Like Cllr Burton, she said it’s important to keep taxis on the road.

Cllr Ian Froude and Mayor Breen also agreed this was a necessary step. The motion passed unanimously.

Burton said this will require a public notice and an amendment to the Taxi By-Laws. She also pointed out people will be able to get through the Christmas season before the new prices come into effect.

Much Ado About Watersheds

Council also rejected two of the three applications to build near a watershed up in the Town of Portugal Cove – St. Philip’s.

There were three applications to build a single Detached Dwelling at 111 Dogberry Hill Road Extension—which was approved. The applications for 115 Dogberry Hill Road Extension and 119 Dogberry Hill Road Extension were turned down.

On 111 Dogberry Hill Road Extension, Cllr Jamie Korab said there’s a small portion of the lot located within the Little Powers Pond Watershed Boundary—that feeds into the Broad Cove River Watershed. However, the proposed dwelling is located outside of the Watershed. So in Section 104(4) of the City of St. John’s Act, the construction of a new dwelling on vacant land in the Watershed isn’t allowed. However, because the Dwelling is proposed outside the Watershed and is within the jurisdiction of the Town, there are no concerns with the construction.

He added the staff recommended the council reject any portion of single detached dwelling within the Broad Cove River Watershed, and the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s must ensure the location of any approved dwelling on the lot is outside this watershed area. As well, a plot plan must be provided to confirm the dwelling is located outside the watershed prior to construction.

If you were left wondering why the St. John’s City Council was voting on the applications for development in another town, Cllr Korab explained that the City is the steward for nearby watersheds.

The Dream of the 90s is Alive on Strawberry Marsh Road

The City also signed off on an application to build a three-storey Single Detached Dwelling at 6 Strawberry Marsh Road.

Korab said this application was received by the city while the 1994 St. John’s Development Regulations were in effect. That means the application will be processed under those requirements.

The property is zoned Residential Low Density and building height isn’t identified in the Zone Requirements, he said. Under the St. John’s Municipal Plan, the Residential Low Density District policy for building height and area is defined as generally low profile—not exceeding two storeys and a floor area ratio of 0.5.

While the zone isn’t being changed, the three storey height needs to be considered because of how it might impact the surrounding area. Subject to Section 5.6.3 “Council may require a Land Use Assessment Report to evaluate any proposed land use, development and, or situation that affects the policies contained in the Municipal Plan.” So it’s recommended that a Land Use Assessment Report be completed. 

Cllr Korab then said it was recommended that Council approve the attached draft Terms of Reference for the LUAR. Following submission of a satisfactory LUAR, the application is to be advertised and then referred to a regular meeting of Council for consideration.

Cllr Froude says he’s generally uncomfortable when newly constructed homes tower over the existing ones, though he said he’d support the build at this stage and see the results of the LUAR—though he said he wouldn’t necessarily support it at a later date.

2022: Year of Bridges, Busses, and Music

Council also approved potential dates for the Churchill Park Music Festival 2022. While the dates haven’t been set in stone the council has given the okay for it to take place either between August 12 – 14 and August 19 – 21. The event will kick off at 4 pm and wrap up at 11 pm.  It’s also 19+ and the capacity will be 10,000 people per concert.

Harbourside Engineering Consultants Limited also snagged a contract valued at $320,447.50 (HST included) for an Engineering Services contract for the 2021 Bridge Rehabilitation Program. Cllr Sandy Hickman said the contract runs from November 2021 – December 2022.

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary did wonder if the cantilever bridge in Bowring Park would be in this bridge rehab program but Deputy City Manager of Planning, Engineering & Regulatory Services Jason Sinyard said it’s too early to tell what bridges will be included.

And finally, council voted to extend the terms for Kirsten Morry as citizen representative and to reconfirm Paul Walsh as Chairperson on the St. John’s Transportation Commission for an additional year. Their terms were set to expire on December 31.

Cllr Froude said there are four civilian representatives sitting on the St. John’s Transportation Commission, and two of them are reaching the end of their second two-year term.

He said the Commission requested terms be extended because there’s been high turnover in recent years, “to ensure there’s a good depth of knowledge around the table and experience.”

The Go-Round

Deputy Mayor O’Leary led today’s round up, saying the St. John’s Status of Women’s Council recently launched a free e-course on gender-based violence.

She also nodded to work done by Dr. William Pryse-Phillips at the Rawlins Cross garden and she said he’d written a note for forgiveness for the appearance of the garden that had been torn up.

Cllr Burton added there’s only a few weeks left for yard waste pick up and she’s also noticed people still using the plastic bags and not the paper bags.

Cllr Hickman also recognized the garden work of Dr. Pryse-Phillips. He then said they should be reminding people that they need to start buying clear garbage bags for January 1.

Cllr Ravencroft also said the St. John’s Status of Women’s Council e-course is a boon. But on a sombre note, she said November 13 to November 20 is trandgender awareness week. As well, the Transgender Day of Remembrance is coming up, which is in memory of those who have been murdered because of transphobia.

Cllr Korab congratulated the Memorial Seahawks rugby team who played their first game in 24 years and won the Atlantic Men’s University Championship.

Cllr Froude also celebrated the completion of the final phase of the Kenmount Road trunk sewer project.

He added that as a councilor he often hears a lot of concerns around traffic and would like to ask if council can get an information note from staff on a street-by-street status update on the traffic calming policy.

He also promoted a public meeting on November 24 at 7 pm for a proposed development at 5-7 Little Street for a personal care home on the property that’ll require a rezoning.

Mayor Breen said he attended the launch of the Come Home Celebration 2022, organized by the provincial government. He said this is something the whole province can get behind and will attract people to visit the province.

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Elizabeth Whitten is a St. John's-based journalist and The Independent's St. John's municipal politics reporter. She's previously worked for allNewfoundlandLabrador and Downhome Magazine, and her work has been published by CBC, The Overcast, and the Toronto Star. She's currently writing a book about how Dr. Cluny Macpherson invented the gas mask in World War One.