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Mayor Danny Breen kicked off Monday’s meeting by proclaiming April as National Poetry Month and they played a pre-recorded video from City of St. John’s Poet Laureate Mary Dalton.

She said there will be poetry readings from local poets throughout the month. Then she read out her own poem, Ellen and the Cows.

There will be poems read at the start of the next three regular council meetings, said Mayor Breen.

All Council members present for the meeting, though Cllrs Debbie Hanlon and Ophelia Ravencroft were attending virtually.

No Vegetable Farm for Cochrane Pond Road

Council voted to reject a Crown Land Lease for eight hectares of land on Cochrane Pond Road.

“The Provincial Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture has referred an application for a Crown Land Lease off Cochrane Pond Road for 8 hectares of land,” said Cllr Jamie Korab.

“This land is proposed to be used as an Agricultural Use for the farming of vegetables, strawberries, crops, and greenhouse. The land is currently zoned Open Space Reserve under the Envision Development Regulations, and the proposed Use is not a Permitted or Discretionary Use in this Zone.”

Deputy mayor Sheilagh O’Leary asked for some clarification for the public on why agriculture can’t be in the open space.

Deputy City Manager of Planning, Engineering & Regulatory Services Jason Sinyard explained that in various zones there are certain uses that are permitted and certain that are discretionary. The open space zone is designed to be left as open space, so agriculture really isn’t permitted. In this case, the Crown referred this application to the City as to whether the City would entertain it.

“All we do at this point in time is advise whether it would be permitted or discretionary, which it isn’t. That information goes back to the Crown,” he said.

Cllr Sandy Hickman then asked why they weren’t considering rezoning the area and Mr. Sinyard said they haven’t made a rezoning application, adding this isn’t even the applicant reaching out to the City but the Crown who wanted to know if the use fits with the zone.

Site of rejected agricultural land proposal near Cochrane Pond Road. (Source: City Agenda, 4 April 2022.)

1 Queen Street Stays Commercial

Council followed that up by rejecting a discretionary use application at 1 Queen Street. The applicant wanted to convert the space from a commercial use to a residential dwelling unit on the first storey. However, the proposed use isn’t compatible with the surrounding commercial uses and it also prevents the use of the space for a commercial purpose.

1 Queen Street used to be Fiddler’s Pub and it has sat vacant for years. There have been a few attempts to reopen a pub in the space but it’s never happened.

The City received one letter about the proposed change and the person was concerned about its location in a high traffic area and that a residence isn’t compatible near George Street.

There was some back-and-forth on this between councillors, too.

Cllr Maggie Burton said she used to live on the street and personally, she didn’t see much of a problem with having a residential unit in the area, calling it “an interesting proposal because it’s been a pub for so long I can’t imagine it as anything other than a pub.”

If someone wanted to live on the ground floor of Queen Street they’d be fine but she also didn’t feel very strongly about it.

Cllr Ian Froude said he thought it was important it stayed commercial and “we need and desire dynamic City Streets, particularly in the downtown.” He added that a residential section will have less foot traffic than commercial. It’s why he supported the recommendation to reject it.

Cllr Ophelia Ravencroft said she was “a little thrown by this recommendation on grounds that Queen Street has always existed, to the best of my knowledge or at least has for a long time, with a certain degree of mixed-use.”

She also said there are a few residential units already on the street and didn’t think it’s been seen that these units detract from the commercial use of the surrounding area.

Mr. Sinyard said in these types of discretionary use applications there is no right or wrong answer, it’s all grey. He said staff looked at it and, given the pattern of development that already exists, the loss of more commercial space on the small street won out and they recommended Council maintain the commercial space on the ground floor of Queen Street.

Ultimately, the vote passed seven to four, with Cllr Ellsworth, Hanlon, Bruce and Ravencroft voting against rejecting the proposal.

Council Gets Moving on a New Committee to Get You Moving

Council then voted to adopt the terms of reference for the proposed new Sustainable and Active Mobility Advisory Committee.

Cllr Froude said about a year ago, Council set a goal to increase the number of people moving about the City using sustainable modes of transportation, including bus, bike and foot, as well as making the City more accessible.

They wanted to get diverse voices on projects. This committee will focus on the implementation of components of the bike master plan and the shared use pathways, he said.

With the formation of this committee, the bike committee will no longer exist. Cllr Froude also thanked the members who’ve served on it for many years and contributed to conversations.

The proposal is to have two people sit on the committee who get around by bike, two people with mobility challenges, two public transit users, and two pedestrians.

“I think that this new committee will provide a more well-rounded set of viewpoints to looking at how to get people around the City through non-motorized forms of transport, as well as with public transportation,” said Cllr Burton.

Council then approved two new goals within the Strategic Plan 2021 Annual Report and 2022 Action Plan and all draft items identified to begin in 2022.

Deputy City Manager of Finance & Administration Derek Coffey said this is year three of the City’s 10-year strategic plan and this provides an update on action items for 2021 as well as new items for 2022.

Under Effective City direction, a new goal has been added: “to achieve service excellence and innovation through collaboration, and modernization, grounded in client needs.”

Under City That Moves they’re now aiming to create a sustainable and accessible, low-carbon public transportation system.

Some of its new initiatives include installing EV Charging Stations throughout the City, increasing opportunities for youth to engage more fully with the City through an online youth panel, and implementing a new citizen request management system at 311.

Quarry Gains Steam

Council then decided to consider Newcrete Investments Limited Partnership (LP)’s request that a portion of the land near Black Mountain Pond, Incinerator Road be rezoned from Rural Zone to the Mineral Working Zone for a quarry.

Newcrete has made a quarry permit application to the provincial government but to allow that to proceed, the area needs to be rezoned.

Newcrete has said the Black Mountain area has a lot of sand and gravel aggregate, which can be used to make concrete and it can be used in the Northeast Avalon region. The quarry will be developed in eight stages over several decades. Also, Newcrete has a quarry in development nearby, said Cllr Froude.

The next move will be to have City Staff mail notices to properties along Incinerator Road and all those within 150 metres of the subject property, said Cllr Froude.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary said the Northeast Avalon council would like to be notified about any quarry applications coming forward—something she knew from her experience with the group dating years ago.

Site of proposed quarry near Incinerator Road. (Source: City Agenda, 4 April 2022.)

Special Consideration for Rural Zone Subdivision

Council also agreed to consider a text amendment to the Envision St. John’s Development Regulations to allow stand-alone single detached dwellings in the Rural Zone for civic numbers 420 to 496 Maddox Cove Road, even numbers only).

“The City received an application to develop a single detached dwelling at 428 Maddox Cove Road. This lot is one of the four undeveloped lots which are part of an approved 11-lot subdivision called Cape Spear Estates, dating back to 2009,” said Cllr Froude.

“The development is unusual in the Rural Zone and staff propose an amendment to the Envision Regulations to allow the last four lots to be developed in line with the original plan, while not allowing similar developments to be considered elsewhere in the Rural Zone. Changes that have been made to the Rural Zone since 2009 have created a situation where these last 4 lots could not be approved for development without violating the zone standards.”

It will be advertised publicly and then referred back to Council for consideration of adoption. Notices would be mailed to those in a 150-metre radius.

Proposed subdivision along Maddox Cove Road. (Source: City Agenda, 4 April 2022.)

Shocking Electrical Permit Costs

Council also signed on to review the current fee structure for electrical permits for residential applications and apply an increase to offset administrative costs, effective July 1.

Cllr Burton said the rationale is an attempt to bring the inspection up to cost-neutral status.

“Basically, most residential inspection visits that have to be done to get electrical put in and get any electrical work done, you need to have to visits by an inspector. Currently the cost to run that, those two visits, is higher than the revenue we’re getting from the permits themselves.”

The agenda provides a few numbers. It costs on average $134.30 for an electrical inspector to make two visits for a residential renovation/extension electrical permit—so the current permit fee of $60.50 doesn’t cover the cost.

Proposed changes to electrical permit costs. (Source: City Agenda, 4 April 2022.)

Holder Tractor Inc. secured a $643,278.55 (HST included) contract for part of the fleet regular replacement plan; for three articulating rubber tire sidewalk plows each with dump body, salt spreader, blade and blower.

Kenmount Terrace Growing Again

Council then agreed to adopt St. John’s Development Regulations Amendment 10, 2022 to rezone a portion of land at 670 Kenmount Road from the Residential 2 Zone to the Residential Reduced Lot Zone. On top of that, Council will allow the planning and development applications related to this development to proceed before the completion of the City’s Wetlands Study, Phase 2A.

75579 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc.—directed by Andrew Duffett, Donald Anthony and Thomas Collingwood (Sr.)—sent an application to the City to rezone a portion of the land at 670 Kenmount Road from the Residential 2 Zone to the Residential Reduced Lot Zone for a 60-lot residential development of single detached dwellings.

On the December 20, 2021 meeting, Council approved the next step in this development’s journey and scheduled a public hearing. It was held on January 26. Council also asked staff to refer the application to the City’s Environment and Sustainability Experts Panel for a recommendation.

At the public consultation, a number of issues were raised, such as whether changing the zoning would result in less residential density. Another concern was a worry over the lack of green space in Kenmount Terrace area and wanting a pocket park, said Cllr Froude. Though he said he agreed that there is a lack of formalized green space in the form of City Parks—and in the future they could look to develop it—that’s not tied to the present application.

He said a third piece to this was driveways: the Reduced Lot Zone has a maximum of a 3.6 metre wide driveway for homes. The applicant has requested this be amended for a double driveway on lots with a wider frontage that can also meet the City’s snow storage requirements. He added if Council agreed, it would affect the entire zone and would come to Council separately.

The Environmental Sustainability Experts Panel also discussed the associated wetland impacts. Cllr Froude said in October they had voted to defer all development applications on sites indicated within the wetland buffer—as delineated in the 2019 study Phase 1—until Phase 2A has been implemented.

But there can be exceptions if a development had already been approved or considered in a delineated wetland buffer. So some of the work for this application was carried out by the City in 2016—before the 2019 wetlands study, Froude said.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary wondered if there are any considerations for greenery adaptation, like trees or absorbent species.

Chief Municipal Planner Ken O’Brien said the development isn’t far along enough that the developer would be looking into that kind of detail. He said this is just an edge of the wetland.

Cllr Froude added that the zero-net run off policy would also apply to this development, which means water can’t run through the water system faster than its previous development condition.

Cllr Korab asked if the City had ever made it mandatory for there to be landscaping at the back of the property, like grass or shrubs, for this reason. Sinyard said as far as he knew, they’d never mandated the backyards had landscaping like the front. If it’s something the Council would like staff to look at, he said they could entertain it.

“But these again are not impacting the wetland, it’s the buffer,” Sinyard noted. “And the buffer does not exist so I don’t know that it’s necessary to make that change.”

Cllr Korab also voiced concern over snow storage and parking, saying if you get two cars parked in tandem it means your snow storage is limited.

Cllr Hickman also wondered about the distance to places for recreation, and if they could find an acre or so for play for kids and people to sit.

670 Kenmount Road. (Source: City Agenda, 4 April 2022.)

The Go Round

Cllr Ravencroft reminded people that the housing catalyst fund has a round of grants up for grabs to fund projects addressing the affordable housing supply in the City. The application deadline is April 8.

She then wished the Muslim community a happy Ramadan.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary also said today is World Autism Day and wanted to acknowledge the contributions of neurodivergent people.

She also said that while Duckworth Street isn’t included in this year’s Pedestrian Mall on Water Street, there are opportunities to bring art and activities safely to the street. So she and Cllr Ravencroft will be assisting in that.

Cllr Hickman said people in the Elizabeth Avenue area near the river have complained of an odor and apparently it’s coming from the school—but it should be fixed in the next few days.

Cllr Jill Bruce gave a shout out to the work of a grade six student in the St. John’s East Scouts, who helped raise $1270 for the Scouts of Ukraine.

Cllr Korab said he felt like “a one trick pony because I’m always congratulating Team Gushue, they’re just that good.” He pointed out they’re competing at the Worlds now and he wishes he was there to watch.

Cllr Carl Ridgeley said in Ward 5 that road construction has started and will last for the next few months but hopefully when it’s done it’ll benefit everyone.

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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.