On October 21, 2013, a motion was made in St. John's City Council to draft amendments to our development regulations allowing a proposed downtown development to violate height and density limits. Here is what Councillor Dave Lane said in advance of his vote.
Your worship, these two buildings, as proposed, are big. They will completely fill the lots they sit on, they will dominate the visual surrounding of the intersection, and they will cast shadows on those who pass through the corridor created by their walls.
Mark my words: This development will irrevocably alter the entranceway to our historic downtown.
However, what frustrates me today is that this proposal has exposed that our decision-making processes at City Hall are not "up to snuff."
Many objections have been submitted both verbally and in writing to City Hall regarding the size, location, design, and decision process for this proposal, and I have listened to and read them all carefully.
The owners and occupiers of the properties directly adjacent to the proposal have expressed valid concerns about how the development will affect traffic, view planes, and the historic character of the area. I have spoken with many of them.
And over the past weekend I initiated a broad, informed discussion on social media which has lead to input from many people across the spectrum of opinion.
Here is what I took from the dialogue.
This proposal is an exciting one which has the potential to add life and vibrancy to an important section of our downtown. This development will attract young professionals to live and work in our city, which incidentally is a key goal of our strategic economic roadmap. And this project will represent an increase of revenue for our city, helping us to provide better services and improved infrastructure to our citizens.
However, our current plan, our by-laws, and the processes by which we make decisions such as this one, are letting us down. Yes, there is a logic behind these approaches, but other cities have evolved their approaches to be more inclusive.
Why is it that the City can option highly valuable pieces of land with no public input? Why is it that so many proposals that break our by-laws and regulations are approved in spite of clear recognition of their infringement? And why is it that we don’t seem to have a clear, unifying vision and plan for the most important area of our city?
These flaws, among others, were brought about by an old approach to development that no longer applies to how our city must grow and develop.
It is high time to clarify the development approval process and create a plan for the downtown.
In the many conversations and comments I have been involved with over the course of considering this application, there has been a fairly strong message sent that this type of development is needed in our city, and in our downtown.
It promotes density as opposed to sprawl; it encourages walkability with its street-front retail and units housing people who will want to venture out on foot; and it has a facade that is appropriately designed for the area.
Our downtown is changing, and must change with the times. I think this is a good proposal - except I would like the taller structure to be reduced by one floor, as I proposed earlier. I think that the application has been rigourously tested - albeit by a weak system of checks and balances.
And because this process was started so long ago, and the the developer has worked hard to follow the rules we gave them - broken or not - I am going to vote to allow progress in our downtown. With the following caveat: The approach to development approval must change and I will fight hard as a councillor to see that our processes are improved as quickly as possible with the input of as many as possible.
Let this situation be a major kick in the pants to all of us here on council and at City Hall to hasten our efforts to finalize our new plan, to overhaul our regulations, and to enact them to the benefit of everyone in this city for years to come.
It’s time to move forward. Thank you.