Yesterday an important vote came to council to essentially approve a new commercial development at the entrance to downtown St. John’s.
It was a controversial issue, as there were a number of aspects of this proposal that are disconcerting to many people.
Briefly, the issues are related to: the size (height and density) of the buildings; the way a portion of the land was optioned to the developer by the city; and the impact the buildings will have on the ambiance of the area and entire downtown. There were also a number of concerns from neighbouring residents and business owners because the buildings encroach on their properties in various ways.
So why did I vote “yes” for this proposal if I understand and appreciate the concerns?
First, I made sure to consider the positive aspects of this proposal:
- the density of the property is in keeping with our efforts to avoid sprawl;
- the units they are building are designed to appeal to skilled professionals - the type of people that the industries powering our economy are looking to attract
- one of the buildings includes street-front retail, an important component of urban development that encourages walkability, commerce, and overall positive activity
- the design of the (required by law) parking garage is very sensitive and is perhaps the best design of a street-level garage this city has seen
- and more, like the façade which uses a variety of attractive, quality building materials, and the fact that the location of the proposal currently house two derelict buildings
Second, I considered whether the concerns outweighed the benefits. And I asked for extensive public and private input from citizens and experts alike. I decided that many of the concerns could be mitigated, and that overall it was the type of project that our city needs.
The decisions and processes that led us here today happened over the course of two years prior to my joining council. They represent an old way of doing things which were not designed to manage the kind of development pressure - and vision for our city - that we have today.
I want to change these processes so that they are more clear, open, and dependable. And I used my position on council to publicly state this for the record while declaring my vote.
But here’s the bottom line: I don’t believe that voting against an otherwise good proposal is the most effective way I can help us build a better, smarter city for the long term.
To achieve this, we’re talking about changing perceptions of what it means to design a great city. We’re talking about creating an environment where citizens, developers, and decision-makers alike feel enthusiastic about engaging together to get things done. We’re talking about replacing our entire approach to facilitating development in a rapidly growing city.
These are huge objectives, involving highly diverse and entrenched viewpoints, and they will take time and patience.
I will continue to demonstrate to you my commitment to these objectives and to the principles I ran on. And I will always communicate with you as honestly and openly as I can.
Thank you for all of your input and points of view - I’m looking forward to continuing this dialogue.
Click here to read my statement to council