In 2011, I was presented an exciting opportunity. As Chair of Happy City, I was invited to represent the group on the City’s new “Municipal Plan Review Advisory Group."
This group was made up of citizen and organization representatives from all over the city of St. John’s and were brought together to help guide the creation of a new -- and long-overdue -- municipal plan.
That group, plus a significant amount of public engagement, led to a draft municipal plan that we can all be proud of and excited about.
There was still another important document called the Development Regulations to be written, however, which would give the Plan “teeth” and set the rules for Council and staff to follow to make the Plan a reality.
After several years of waiting, a draft of the Development Regulations has finally been produced for all to see.
Better regs - but could they be better?
However, now that they are available to the public, I’m concerned that this important document -- while well written and easier to understand -- does not appropriately reflect the vision and intent of our Plan.
Worse still, it appears that we may be sprinting to the finish line before the public has been given the chance to inform, influence, or otherwise “vet” this document, which once approved by the provincial government could be in place for well over a decade.
For example, the draft Plan calls for mixed-use, walkable neighbourhoods that limit suburban sprawl. This was clearly what the community wanted: we heard it a lot during the public sessions.
But do the draft Development Regulations encourage or require the kind of development that people said they wanted, and discourage what they don’t want? I’m not so sure.
Let's get real input from interested residents
That’s why we need more engagement. There are so many questions to ask and discuss to make sure we all feel confident in this extremely important city-building document.
Have we explored some of the concepts in urban planning that have been catching on elsewhere, such as form-based codes? What lessons have we gained from studying other jurisdictions that are known for their progressive urban planning?
Do the new regulations inhibit or prevent car-oriented suburban sprawl? Do they promote or require any elements of walkable neighbourhoods? Do they help establish new, vibrant neighbourhoods by requiring different types of housing options?
Have we simply built on a old foundation that no longer suits the demands and values of the 21st century?
I’m not satisfied that we have Development Regulations that will deliver on the promise of the Envision Municipal Plan. This process has taken a long time and with such a great draft Plan, we shouldn’t accept Development Regulations that don’t measure up.
Opportunities to have a say
On Tuesday, August 29th at 3-5pm and 7-9pm there will be “open house” information sessions at City Hall for residents to learn more about the draft regulations. Please try to pop by for a while and ask a few questions.
On Tuesday, September 5th, at Council’s next meeting, I will publicly call on staff to pursue a comprehensive public engagement campaign for our draft Regulations. I will not be voting in favour of sending the document in its current form to the Province for review.
We have done so much work to develop an engagement framework at City Hall. We are at a critical point and should use our new approach to help the public influence the document that impacts their lives so significantly.