What Odds at City Hall: 28 March 2022

At Monday’s meeting, Council spars over parklet fees, swaps around some City land, and okays road closures.

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First off, all the councilors but Cllr Maggie Burton were present for Mondays’ regular council meeting.

Just as Cllr Sandy Hickman said he would last week, he brought a notice of motion to enact an amendment to the St. John’s Street Cleaning By-Laws to adjust its street cleaning hours.

Downtown Street Cleaning is scheduled between May and September and all street cleaning happens overnight between the hours of 12:01am and 7am. Vehicles that aren’t moved during this period and could be in the way of cleaning can be ticketed, said Cllr Hickman.

The new times for cleaning will be 10 pm to 6 am and ticketing is permitted on statutory holidays. The hope is the new street cleaning time will be less confusing for people and help people comply with it. Statutory holidays that fall on the street cleaning dates also means people can be ticketed on those days.

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary said she was happy to see this going forward, adding she’s heard the previous schedule has confused people.

New Counseling Clinic on Mount Cashel Road

A Holding Place Inc.—directed by Helen MacKinnon—has gotten a change of non-conforming use and expansion of non-conforming use application for 1A Mount Cashel Road. She also got approved for parking relief for four parking spaces.

It will go from a hair salon to a clinic for counseling and therapy services. Its hours of operation will be Monday to Thursday, 8:30 am to 9 pm, Friday 8:30 am to 4 pm, and Saturday 9 am to 12:30 pm, said Cllr Jamie Korab.

The agenda adds some additional information, like that sessions will be hourly and by appointment only. The clinic will have six counseling offices and will expand in size by 89 m², for a total area of 267 m². It will also have nine employees and on-site parking.

In addition, there’s a residential unit in the building where the owner will live.

There was a small snag though, because the lot has a required number of 14 parking spaces. But the business owner argued she was living in the unit so only 13 spots were necessary. As well, many people either are dropped off for appointments, walk or use public transportation. So the City signed off on parking relief.

Cllr Ron Ellsworth abstained from voting, explaining the property owner is a client.

1A Mount Cashel Road. (Source: City Agenda, 28 March 2022.)

Deck Season Cometh

The Council then had in front of it a submission from the City of St. John’s regarding parklets in the downtown and Churchill Square, as well as waiving additional parking requirements for the spaces.

This will allow parklets for outdoor eating areas associated with restaurants and lounges on City owned land within the downtown and the Churchill Square parking lot.

The parklets can operate from May 20 to October 31, said Cllr Korab, and some of it falls within the area of the Pedestrian Mall. Construction can start two weeks before opening day.

They can operate daily from 7 am to 11 pm.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary also spoke out in favour of this project, adding she likes the timeframe that extends to October because it will help business owners in the “shoulder season.”

Map of Patio Season in St. John’s. (Source: City Agenda, 28 March 2022.)

Council then awarded a two-year contract to three companies to supply aggregates for roads, parks, waste and waste water.

They received six bids for four different types of materials, said Cllr Hickman.

First up, Johnson’s Construction Ltd. secured the work for concrete ($27,865). Then, Clarke’s Trucking and Excavating Limited got two pieces of the pie, Pea Stone Ball Field Sand ($42,080) and washed stone ($46,250). The other piece went to Weirs Construction Limited for road gravel ($177,470).

“There are many bidders on each one. So as I said, we will go sequentially with first right of offer to the lowest bid,” said Cllr Hickman.

Stantec Consulting Ltd. secured the contract to provide engineering consulting services to conduct a Water System Master Plan for the City that will help to determine how best to provide water servicing for the City of St. John’s over the next 25 year.

The only other bid came from CBCL Limited and the agenda didn’t list its bid.

Parklet Fee Woes

Parking is back on the agenda and there was some back and forth between councillors on the issue.

Council signed off on bringing back the fees for the Parklet Program. In 2022 they are reinstating the building permit fee and the fee to lease City land, but continue to waive the discretionary use application fee and the lease agreement administration fee. In 2023 the City will reinstate the discretionary use application fee and the lease agreement administration fee.

During discussions, Cllr Ophelia Ravencroft said she wasn’t able to support this decision. She had heard from the Downtown Business Association with concerns on behalf of their members and she had been reached directly as well.

She’s aware there’s a certain level of compromise in the new system, with the City waiving some fees and bringing back others and does hope it offers some relief.

“But the fact is, that in 2022 we are still aware that COVID is rapidly evolving. And the rationale in part for reinstating these was the lifting of mandates. At any given time the mandates could be put back in place,” said Cllr Ravencroft.

As well, people could still have reservations about going out. She added the parklets are going to be an essential part of any restaurant strategy for this year. It’s important the Council does what they can to support businesses right now.

Cllr Hickman also said he wanted to echo Cllr Ravencroft’s comments.

“I think that I would have prefered a three year, moving into a fulfillment of reinstating the full cost over a three year period,” he said.

However, Deputy Mayor O’Leary said she had also weighed the issue and believes they have struck a balance with this and considers it a sensible approach. It’s also phased in, she said.

“I think it’s time. We have to start. Everything is back to full capacity right now. And not only is it business that have been impacted… but we also know that’s also revenue that the City has been certainly missing out on as well.”

Cllr Korab also spoke out in support, stating he believes smaller businesses are an economic driver. He said the parklet program was brought in to help business owners deal with the pandemic and the public health measures that restricted capacity. Bringing back some fees and waiving others is a good balance, he concluded.

Cllr Debbie Hanlon also said she supported the motion, also saying the City needed the income. She added it’s a happy medium and it’s not like they’re ripping off a bandage.

Cllr Ellsworth had the final word, which he started off by saying he understood where the other councilors were coming from, particularly Cllr Ravencroft who’s ward contains the downtown.

He strongly believed in the motion and their proposal, explaining it’s anticipated that last year it cost the City about $185,000 in revenue, he said.

“This Council has been very sympathetic towards the business community. The budget we brought down certainly seen that in how we handled the mil rates, with 50 percent of the business community receiving no tax increase or decrease.”

Both Cllrs Ravencroft and Hickman voted against it, but it still passed.

Land Swap

The Council approved a land swap between the City and the owner of 4 Merrymeeting Road.

The owners of the property approached the City’s legal department with the idea so they can further develop their property, said Cllr Ravencroft.

“The property owner will be responsible for all required surveys, application to consolidate their property and any required development approvals and permits. This land swap would not constitute development approval,” said Cllr Ravencroft.

It comes with a nominal fee of $1 plus the administrative fee of $300 (plus HST), she added.

4 Merrymeeting Road. (Source: City Agenda, 28 March 2022.)

Council is also closing some roads and putting in lane reductions for three events, as well as a noise by-law extension.

The first is the Flat Out 5K Road Race taking place on April 24 from 8 am – 9:15 am. The lane reductions will be at Aberdeen Avenue and Stavanger.

The Mundy Pond 5K Road Race is taking place on May 1 from 7:30 am to 9 am. There will be a road closure at Pearce Avenue, though local traffic is fine, as well as lane reductions at Mundy Pond Road, Blackler Avenue, and Blackmarsh Road.

There will also be a noise by-law extension for the filming of Vegas on April 16 until 12 am. Filming is taking place in the parking lot adjacent to 7 Hutchings Street. 

(Despite my Googling, I couldn’t find any information about Vegas and what type of production it is.)

The Go Round

Deputy Mayor O’Leary had a few things on her plate today. First off was reminding people that with the snow disappearing, it’s revealing a lot of garbage. She encouraged people to think about what they can do to keep things tidy, even suggesting people buy little garbage pick-up devices she called a “clicker.”

She also has been hearing from people who’ve seen City vehicles idling and wanted to ask about what more could be done about emissions.

Deputy City Manager of Public Works Lynnann Winsor answered her, explaining the City does have a no-idling policy but there are good reasons the drivers might have their vehicles running. She said she can pass the question on to the sustainability staff who could look and see if the policy needs to be updated or revised.

Finally, O’Leary spoke about the Pedestrian Mall, which is relegated to just Water Street this year. She said she heard from a business owner a suggestion they bring artwork to Duckworth Street. It could have art installations and gallery space, she said, so all of the downtown areas get “light.”

Cllr Hickman had some news many car owners will be happy to hear: on March 31, at a minute to midnight the winter parking ban will be lifted. He noted, however, if we get a dumping of snow a 24-hour parking ban could be brought in to clean it up.

Cllr Ellsworth said the Youth of the Year is open for nomination until March 31. This is to recognize the volunteerism of people ages 12 to 18.

Cllr Hanlon also touted the Applause Award for Senior of the Year, adding the deadline for nominations has been moved from March 31 to April 7.

In addition, she mentioned people can now register for spring recreation programs.

Cllr Jill Bruce asked people to be cautious when they were driving, especially near school zones. With the sun out, plenty of kids are running about so they may not be paying attention.

Cllr Ravencroft said she was looking forward to more discussions on the Pedestrian Mall in the coming weeks.

“I want the entire downtown business community to know that as Ward councillor I’m here for you. And that this Council is here for you. That we are doing our best to respond to your concerts and make this as equitable as it can for everyone. Equity is one of the driving principles that led us to the Pedestrian Mall in the first place.”

She also gave a belated happy Independence Day to the local Bangladeshi community and International Transgender Day of Visibility, which is coming up on March 31.

“And beyond that, enjoy the beautiful weather. And check in on your neighbourhood goths because we’re not going to be okay if the sun stays like this.”

Cllr Korab reminded people of the public hearing on rezoning of 150 New Gower Street taking place virtually on March 30. People who want to attend had to register in advance. People can also submit their comments to the City and the city clerk via email.

He also said curlers Team O’Leary, Team Nathan Young, and Team Mitchell are currently playing at the RE/MAX Centre in order to go on to compete at the Canadian Under-21 curling nationals.

Finally, Mayor Danny Breen wanted to thank Bob Hallett and Terra Bruce Productions for their plans for the old Majestic Theatre. He said it’s an important historic site because it’s where the riot gathered in 1932 before marching on Colonial Building looking for then-prime minister Richard Squires.

An odd thing—I think—for an elected official to reminisce about the time an angry mob almost murdered the prime minister.

“Having a theatre that size … is a big addition for the arts community and for the entertainment district,” the Mayor said. “And when you put that together with the availability of the LSPU Hall and the new Jag hotel expansion being done by John Steele, and the performing centre there. And the bigger venues, such as the Mary Brown’s Centre and the St. John’s Convention Centre. It certainly leads to a great addition to the downtown and to the downtown scene, so to speak.”

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter.

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