Mayor Danny Breen was back in his chair on Monday after being absent at last week’s council meeting. Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary was absent for a second week, however, and Cllr Jill Bruce was also not there.

Cllr Debbie Hanlon attended the meeting virtually.

Transitioning Into a Transitional House

First item on the agenda, Council agreed to grant an approval in principle for a lodging house—aka a transitional house—as well as associated offices at 55 Military Road.

This is currently the Association for Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador’s office, located across the street from Government House.

Stella’s Circle wants to turn it into a lodging house with 15 rooms, common washrooms and kitchen area, seven offices, and common rooms for residents, said Cllr Jamie Korab.

But there are some strings attached to that approval. First off it has to meet all requirements of the Envision St. John’s Municipal Plan and Development Regulations. To get final approval there will need to be detailed site and servicing plans.

It will also have to meet the Residential Downtown Zone Requirements—so height and rear yard will be approved by Council once detailed site plans are submitted.

Fourth, parking requirements have to be met or parking relief has to be given by Council.

A revised Development Agreement is to be prepared and signed prior to final approval and, finally, external work is subject to the Heritage By-Law.

Cllr Maggie Burton said a transitional house is a permitted use in the Residential Downtown Zone, so the discretionary side of the application is for the office portion of the building. She said some of the concerns Council heard was the presence of a transitional house in the area.

“Individuals across the housing spectrum need places to live that are nearby the amenities that they need and the resources that they need in order to move on with their lives,” said Cllr Burton. “I fully support the existence of a transitional house in this area,” 

She added that she’s looking forward to seeing the end result.

Cllr Ophelia Ravencroft also spoke in favour, and while she heard the public’s concerns, “at the end of the day, units like this are essential.” She cited the issue around the lack of shelters and transition houses has been a serious issue for some time now.

55 Military Road. (Source: City Agenda, 30 May 2022.)

It’s a Jungle Out There

The downtown Jungle Jim’s location is getting parking relief of seven spots so it can build a temporary outdoor lounge on vacant land adjacent to its patio at 4 George Street.

“The outdoor parklet will be approximately 179.4 m² and will require nine parking spaces. The property owner has secured two parking spaces in a parking lot across the street and is seeking parking relief for seven more parking spaces,” said Cllr Korab.

The George Street Jungle Jim’s. (Source: City Agenda, 30 May 2022.)

Quidi Vidi Clean Up

Coady Construction and Excavating Ltd. secured a contract valued at $161,850 (HST excluded) for dredging at Quidi Vidi Lake, which is being done for the June 25th Regatta.

You heard that right: a regatta on Quidi Vidi Lake that’s not the Royal St. John’s Regatta held in August. I had to Google, but it’s for the Come Home Year Races.

The other bids came from Modern Paving Ltd. ($177,700) and Carew Services Ltd. ($284,500).

Catalyzing City Housing

The recipients for the Housing Catalyst Fund have been announced and approved by Council.

“The Fund is a partnership between the City of St. John’s and Community Housing Transformation Centre,” said Cllr Ravencroft. “It’s practical and collaborative projects which lead to transformative change in the sector. The fund’s role is to work with community groups and other stakeholders to facilitate and plan housing solutions that will enhance the quality of life for individuals and families and build a healthier community.”

The City of St. John’s and the Community Housing Transformation Centre selected five grant recipients—totalling $110,000—for this year:

  • Anglican Homes: $30,000
  • St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre: $30,000
  • Gathering Place: $20,000
  • Stella’s Circle: $20,000
  • Hospitality NL: $10,000

Council then approved the proposed summer schedule for Regular, Special and Committee of the Whole meetings.

That would make the schedule for the Regular/Special Meetings:

  • Tuesday, July 12, 2022
  • Monday July 25, 2022
  • Monday, August 8, 2022
  • Monday, August 22, 2022

And the Committee of the Whole Meetings:

  • Wednesday, July 13, 2022
  • Wednesday, July 27, 2022
  • Wednesday, August 10, 2022
  • Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Decking Out O’Reilly’s

Council then agreed to amend the Heritage By-law to allow for new decks and balconies on facades facing George Street.

It also approved O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub at 13 George Street going up with a new second storey deck.

According to the agenda, the applicant wants to remove the existing awning sign and replace it with a second storey deck. The second storey windows will be replaced with doors to the deck and the railings will be black wrought iron to match the black of the existing windows and signage. This new deck will extend to cover the ground floor patio, but it won’t go beyond the fencing. The applicant will also enter into an agreement with the City where it’ll be required to maintain a walking area.

Artist’s conception of new O’Reilly’s deck. (Source: City Agenda, 30 May 2022.)

George Street United Church Annex: No Longer Part of Our Heritage

Council also voted to consider removing the heritage designation from the annex of George Street United Church at 25 Buchanan Street and 130 George Street West.

The heritage designation would still remain on the original part of George Street United Church.

The applicant wants to subdivide the two properties and if the heritage building designation is axed and the sale and subdivision goes ahead, the applicants want to temporarily lease the annex property back to the church until they look to redevelop it. The long-term plan is to demolish the annex, return the back wall of the church to its former state, and redevelop the annex site with a new building.

“This will help generate much needed economic activity for the church in order to keep doing what they do best and meeting the needs of the congregation and the community down in George Street,” said Cllr Burton.

She pointed out the heritage designation really applies to the church and the annex is a newer construction. Moreover, she said from a heritage perspective, removing a heritage designation is always a concern for the Built Heritage Expert Panel and the community.

“I don’t want this to be seen as chipping away at the designation of a building but rather by being flexible enough to allow the original church itself to continue to exist and serve the community.”

The church is also a provincial Registered Heritage Structure, though that only applies to the original church structure and not the annex, said Cllr Burton.

Cllr Sandy Hickman said this is an excellent opportunity for the church’s congregation and it isn’t dissimilar to the situation many churches are facing right now: “a need for survival and this is one way they can do that by taking advantage of this opportunity. It’s not the historic part of the building so I’m quite supportive of using this opportunity to actually preserve and continue the life of this beautiful, old historic building.”

He added the same thing happened with the Parish Hall, and that money went to preservation and improvements to the Anglican Cathedral.

Cllr Ron Ellsworth announced he’d be abstaining from voting, but didn’t say why—though it probably has something to do with his realtor business.

George Street United Church Annex. (Source: City Agenda, 30 May 2022.)

West End Fire Station Reaching Lofty New Heights

Council then signed off on a draft Heritage Report terms of reference for a proposed extension and renovation at 265 LeMarchant Road. You likely know it as the former West End Fire Station, and it happens to be a designated heritage building—the second modernist designated building in the City.

The applicant wants to add two additional floors and expand at the rear of the building, making 16 residential units. Cllr Burton also stressed this is still in the initial design phase and isn’t the final design.

The designs are by Reardon Construction and Development.

Artist’s conception of The Station Lofts. (Source: City Agenda, 30 May 2022.)

Wajax Equipment won the bid for a fleet replacement of two rock trucks for Robin Hood Bay to the tune of $1,610,272.32 (HST included).

Wajax Equipment was the sole bidder and its scheduled delivery date is July 1, 2023, then the five year lease term begins, said Cllr Hickman.

Two new people have been appointed to the Affordable Housing Working Group.

They are Nikki Browne who is with the Marguerite’s Place Program Coordinator with the St. John’s Status of Women Council and Robert Piccott, a Program and Policy Development Specialist with Poverty Reduction – Children, Seniors, and Social Development.

Their terms are both up in June 2024.

Downtown Hotel and Residence Back Before Council

The proposed Magna hotel at 150 Gower Street is back before Council; it’s a 13-storey, 136-room hotel with retail space along New Gower Street and a 9-storey, 86-unit residential building at the rear of the lot.

Council approved the resolutions for St. John’s Municipal Plan Amendment Number 3, 2022 and St. John’s Development Regulations Amendment Number 4, 2022 regarding land at 150 New Gower Street.

Cllr Ian Froude said if the attached amendments were approved then they would be forwarded to the provincial government for registration, which would conclude the municipal amendment process for the site.

They also adopted the Land Use Report dated October 21, 2021, approved the discretionary use of six dwelling units on the first storey of the residential building—at the rear of the lot—and set the zone standards as per the site plan in the Land Use Report dated October 21, 2021.

“There are many spaces in the downtown where we can add density and density is very much needed to ensure that we have an economically viable downtown. It’s an extremely efficient way to support the provision of City services as well,” said Cllr Froude.

Cllr Burton also spoke in favour of this development, explaining that while people have their concerns she feels the applicant has addressed those issues in the updated land use report, like the concern over shadow impacting neighbouring homes.

She said the 86 residential units are very much needed and there needs to be density in the downtown.

Cllr Hickman also voiced his support for the project, pointing out the land at 150 New Gower Street has been empty for ages and they’ve waited for a project.

Artist’s conception of proposed developments, as viewed from the corner of New Gower and Springdale. (Source: City Agenda, 30 May 2022.)

As its final business of the day, Council approved tapping into Regional Water Equipment Replacement Reserve Fund to purchase a replacement ozone system compressor and dryer for the Bay Bulls Big Pond Water Treatment Plant.

The estimated cost is $203,861 (HST Extra).

The Go Round

Cllr Burton said the annual streets rehabilitation program is getting underway and people can sign up for e-updates so they can get a heads up on what streets will be worked on. You can also go to the City’s website under Traffic Advisories and search ‘Traffic’ for this schedule or call 311.

She also said Monday morning she was raising a flag to commemorate Francophone Day and then read a statement en Français.

Cllr Ravencroft spoke about a social media dustup over a sidewalk issue that happened this weekend that involved Cllr Froude’s Ward 4. She said she wouldn’t go into the details about it and it’s been resolved.

(I tried to poke around Twitter but couldn’t figure what had happened—but message me if you know!)

Cllr Ravencroft wanted to stress that if people have a serious concern then they need to reach out to their councillors directly. You can’t rely on officials spotting comments by chance on social media. As well, no feedback was submitted to the City or any of the councillors who were named in the social media thread.

“And additionally, if you are the kind of person who jumps into threads like that to say nasty things about, particularly women who sit around this table, I hope you get horrible sunburns this summer of the sort I’ve been sporting now for about a month,” she concluded. “And I would advise you to please cut it out and find something better to do with your time.”

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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.