Going South

| Thu, Nov 3, 2011 | 2413

Full Tilt

Collage by Taryn Sheppard.

The Southside Hills is conspicuously quiet. Lots of people wonder why there isn’t more going on up there, like a neighbourhood, or stores and business. It seems like an obvious choice to many, as an alternative to sprawling suburbs and so-called ‘smart centres’, the likes of which have been condemned by urban planners everywhere. It’s a huge chunk of land that could possibly help to increase density in the downtown and vitalize the existing core of the city. It could also be a park, with marked lookouts and trails like Signal Hill. It’s close to everything, it has great views, and much of the hill is not too steep for practical building. But at the moment, the most prominent feature on the hill is a collection of rusty Irving Oil storage tanks.

With the exception of Shea Heights and Fort Amherst, why are the Southside Hills basically unoccupied?

I contacted the city if they could explain what the deal was, and they informed me that most of the land is crown land, owned by the province. But, in the 80s, a deal was signed between the province and a company named Sohilco (Southside HIlls Corporation) to give them what is known as ‘right of first refusal’, meaning roughly, if anything is to be done with the land, it will be done by Sohilco. The agreement affects an area of land bordered by Southside Road on the west, Blackhead Road at the south, Deadman’s Cove at the east and following the coastline all the way back along to Fort Amherst.

Over the years, Sohilco has had a few big ideas about developing the Hills. They were interested in engineer Tom Kierans’ ideas about excavating portions of the hills for underground infrastructure, storage and other industrial applications. He proposed underground sewage treatment for the city, with a pipe for sewage outfalls into Freshwater Bay, and a park with a road circling the high points at the top of the hill. Kierans is probably more well known for his proposal for the Rock Arena, the controversial “arena built into the hill” idea which came about at the time when the city was looking to build a new stadium. It was one of the more radically creative proposals this city has ever seen, but was eventually turned down.

Sohilco was still interested in the hill top park idea as recently as the late 90s and early 2000s, and was encouraged by the city to collaborate with the East Coast Trail Association, which was responsible for revitalizing the old trails that exist along the hill and south along the coast. These days, however, Sohilco lays dormant, and no development has progressed. Is it time to resurrect the discussion of what could become of the hills?

There are certainly environmental concerns. The marshland along the top behind the ridge out of view is recognised as being of environmental importance. There is already a lot of infrastructure built up to control the flow of water off the hill—If you’ve ever walked up the Fort Amherst East Coast Trail, you have seen the bridge and small dam, and the marshy ponds—and new developments would likely encroach on these vulnerable natural areas.

That said, it may be a perfect alternative to suburban sprawl, or a great tourist destination like Signal Hill. It could become a more important aspect of our city. For now though, the hills are just a blank canvas for our big ideas.

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6 Responses

  1. avatar
    Anonymous Says:

    Developing the southside hills is an interesting idea that is worth exploring, but I wish you would stop with all the suburb-bashing that seems to go into everything you write. We have suburbs because thats what a lot of people want, suburban development is not some evil plot cooked by nefarious developers, they’re just giving people what they want, these people are spending an awful lot of money on their homes so they should have some choice in the matter. Particularly in a city like St. John’s it’s quite understandable for someone to not want to deal with the hassles of owning a 150 year old firetrap downtown, even the nice homes are a hassle, and they’re not all nice, some are just old. Not to mention other things like tiny streets with no parking. And the crazy thing about it is that the same people who cry about “sprawl” are the first to hit the protest lines whenever someone attempts to modernize downtown.

  2. avatar
    Anonymous Says:

    They call for an end to suburban development and sprawl, yet fairly recently all holy hell broke loose when a developer tried to put a few nice townhouses up by the Battery Hotel. Make up your minds, this city is growing whether you like it or not. I can only imagine the ridiculous struggle it would be for anyone to make a serious go at developing the southside hills. I doubt it’s worth any developers’ time due to the constant battle they would face with the downtown heritage crowd and city hall bureaucracy.

  3. avatar
    Anonymous Says:

    Leave the Southside hills alone. Do we have to devolve every bit of land within city limits. There was a great area for hiking, biking, letting animals live between Blackmarsh and Kenmount and now that’s been ruined, why would you want to do the same in the Southside hills? Places like this make St. John’s special, it’s amazing we have mostly untouched wilderness minutes outside the downtown core. If you want St. John’s to become just another city devolve the shit out of those hills and lets put some condos in the battery as well.

  4. avatar
    Jimmy Says:

    Let me guess Anonymous who posted at 9:37 on Nov 6th…….you are also one of these people who are complaining about urban sprawl.

  5. avatar
    Anonymous Says:

    @ Jimmy. Not at all, I live in Airport Heights for Christs sake. I just think it’s a bad idea to build a house on every square inch of land, sorry I don’t want my city looking like Paradise. I’ve lived in other cities in my life and I can tell you we have something special here so lets not ruin it.

  6. avatar
    Jimmy Says:

    While I do agree with you on St. John’s being “special”, residents have to understand that with an influx of residents comes the need for change. In 15 years there is an estimated 200k former Newfoundland residents ready to retire and come back to their home province. If 1/4 of those individuals chose St. John’s as their retirement destination the city would be royally screwed with current practices.