On the up and up

The St. John’s city budget for 2010 was decidedly status quo, but the year is shaping up to be anything but. This year will see the much-anticipated launch of the curbside recycling program (due in spring, although disappointingly slated to be optional), as well as the first full year of not dumping raw sewage into the harbour. The city is facing increased costs related to these massive undertakings, as well as in most other areas such as snow clearing, and road maintenance. This leaves council to look at their short list of ways they can generate revenue to make up this difference, while maintaining (or increasing) service levels. What inevitably comes up as a solution is new tax dollars coming from development. Higher (compared to residential) rates of business taxes make new business developments particularly appealing because of the increase to city revenues.

Development in St. John’s is controlled by the St. John’s Municipal Plan. The Municipal Plan contains all of the regulations which new developments in the city must conform to, including: the uses of properties, height, size, colour, and style of buildings. These regulations were all designed to maintain the vision for the city of St. John’s outlined in the plan, including preserving the heritage character of the city.

Current height restrictions for buildings in the downtown heritage area allow for buildings to be an absolute maximum of ten stories. For a building to be the full ten stories, it must meet several criteria, including “preserving harbour views from streets and public open spaces.”

I would bet my socks that before 2010 is out, these building regulations will have been challenged, if not changed. Fortis, the owner of one of the largest buildings in St. John’s, may be the first one to try and change these regulations. Councillors O’Leary, Colbert, Hann, Hickman, Breen and Hanlon have all confirmed that they have met with Fortis to discuss the concept for a redevelopment of the current Fortis Building on Water Street. There has been no formal proposal for this concept, but the idea is for two fifteen-story towers. It is likely that no proposal has been submitted because the Municipal Plan would not allow for buildings of such a height.

What really worries me, as a person who enjoys sunlight downtown, is that there is a very real chance this might happen. The challenge for council will be to balance the benefits of new revenue with the cost to citizens of this fine city. This is difficult because: it’s easy to point to the benefits of new development, which show up nicely as dollars on an accountant’s ledger. While it is impossible to quantify the feeling of waking up to the sun rising through the narrows, or the awe of a first time visitor seeing a fog-clad Signal Hill.

Catch Andrew live-blogging city council meetings every Monday at www.twitter.com/thescopeNL

8 comments

Top Chef Moving to Quidi Vidi

Local Top Chef Canada contestant TV’s Todd Perrin and business partner Stephen Lee are turning a 200-year old cottage in Quidi Vidi Village into an “uber-local” restaurant.

1 February 2012

  1. Jordan · February 1, 2012

    I like the idea of the Fortis Building redevelopment and I would be happy to see it go ahead. St. John’s lacks office space and low business taxes will screw residence over by them having to pay higher taxes and it will be horrible for the economy, right now there isn’t much the city could offer to lure companies to set-up here. While I do support the Fortis building redeevelopment I don’t understand why Fortis and other developers don’t move down to the westend of Water Street and develop that area, although if that is to happen I think the city needs to get rid of any high restrictions they have for that area theres no need of them.

  2. Mark · February 1, 2012

    I DO NOT like the idea of the Fortis Building redevelopment because it threatens to destroy my view of the Harbour and because it is slapping the citizens of this city in the face by trying to skirt the regulations that were designed to keep the heritage aspect that we love and the reason that tourists come here AND spend money here.

    Go west. Fortis. Way west. Maybe beside the #2 Hwy or Columbus.

    We don’t need to sell the heart of our downtown to attract employment and business. We cannot possibly think that selling off downtown to attract property hungry investors is going to end in permanent happy offices where we can work for that $30 000 – $100 000 a year and keep our real standard of life. Especially when most people now understanding what peak oil is and that it is likely here already
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil
    http://www.whatispeakoil.com/

    As if a redevelopment like a 15 story building isn’t going to be sold for millions as condos because they will have the only view in the downtown. I know, let’s sell the condos to really rich people that come in on cruise ships OK? That will be great for bringing in taxes… OR maybe not…

    The whole business tax arguement as our savior doesn’t really hold much water either. If we want the services we will have to pay for them and we are going to have to decide how to best do that. But as we fight about who is paying what for taxes Fortis wants to cash in. just like Dominion did with Memorial Stadium. Hey Loblaws, You gonna turn that into condos too when the grocery store shuts down? Imagine… That was sold for 1$.

    A Citizens group with people across the downtown and from various wards outside of the downtown are already forming to battle you Fortis.

    Everybody in the city knows how important a distinct cultural heritage is to St. John’s. Join this brand new Facebook Group!

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=275230981018

    Go west! Fortis! Way west!

  3. Andrew Harvey · February 1, 2012

    Hey Jordan,
    I would love to see more businesses come to St. John’s, I just don’t want to see them build massive buildings right on the water downtown. From the companies perspective, they want to do this because it makes their property value skyrocket, which in turn costs residential taxpayers when their assessments go up.

    In my opinion, building massive structures in an already crowded downtown which already has nowhere to park is a short-sighted money grab on the part of developers, and any council which would allow such a development. (In Fortis’ defense, my understanding is that there was to be some parking included in the development, although I doubt it would be enough to offset the increase to downtown traffic the development would cause).

    What I feel the real issue is here, is what type of city we would have in 10 years if we allow any and all developments to occur in the downtown. The types of development we would see would be high bang-for-buck investments by large companies who can afford to fund such massive undertakings. Without height restrictions, the developments we would see would be designed to maximize space (and thus profit) and be massive. They would be large office complexes, which would rent office space to any organization, or company who could afford whatever astronomical price the market would allow for. We would also see (more) large condominiums, which would further gentrify the downtown, making property values for those unfortunate few who happen to own a house in the downtown, and not make a six-digit income, so ridiculously high that they would no longer be able to afford the property tax. The city would be awash with tax dollars, but downtown would be empty every evening, with all of the common folk forced to cheaper digs further out in the city, and most of the small businesses we support downtown having closed because none of the former customers would be nearby anymore. Every day from 7-10 there would be one massive traffic jam trying to enter the concrete jungle of the new St. John’s downtown, squabbling over the insufficient parking, shuffling their way past the closed businesses of old St. John’s to their over-priced offices with beautiful views of the other massive office buildings. Then from 4-6pm, there would be the same slew of traffic booting it to Mt. Pearl, and CBS, where the workers could actually afford to live, all the while spewing exhaust into the air.
    This is not the kind of St. John’s I want to live in, I don’t know about you.

    How’s that for a rant?

  4. Jordan · February 1, 2012

    My thought about solving the parking problem would be new development. If office building were constructed, west of city hall which is where I think development should really occur due to the vacant land and seeing there really isn’t any historical buildings in that area. St. John’s could then force developers to put in enough parking for people working in the building plus extra parking. These buildings would be able to connect to the other newer buildings, the delta, the cabot buildings, mile one and city hall, which would allow people to park away from the “historic district” where parking is tough. This would also allow for people to get easier parking downtown without having to walk outside much till they get historic area, therefore people would be more inclined to go downtown especially in winter months.

    I also think the city should probably put a stop to the anymore condo developments downtown and focus on hotels and office space, which is what is lacking in the city. Council should also look at making sure the existing buildings and newer ones for that matter are kept up instead of always forcusing on the height. Whats the sense of a historic building being kept up if it’s falling abart.

    And does anyone no whats up with green iron(or whatever) stripes on the Atlantic Place parking garage? Why hasn’t council gotten them to paint that brown to blend in with brick? not a great view sailing into the harbour.

  5. Sharon · February 1, 2012

    Anyone concerned about the Fortis Development taking away harbour views should also take a trip down to the east end of Quidi Vidi Village, past the brewery, where the view of ‘the Gut’ is rapidly disappearing as a result of yet another condo, complete with a huge steel deck which will soon wall up the view (and the light) for all the hikers, tourists and wedding parties who come to visit the little city park/viewing area next door. Apparantly, current regulations actually permitted this horrific and obstructive mustard monster. It seems anything and everything passes as a heritage-friendly development in St. John’s! Recently,when residents of Quidi Vidi complained about this development, city councillors could only respond that it “meets current regulations.” To add insult to injury, when the house and the deck construction began, the property owner didn’t have permits for either! To date, there has been no consequences for this flagrant violation of city regulations. Would you and I get away with this?.. I think not. In St. John’s there appears to be one law for rich developers and another for the rest of us. And by the way, what’s the use of a tax-payer funded $175,000 ocean view park that has almost no view, no grass left, little light, and is in constant use as a construction site by one selfish developer???? If we want to preserve anything beautiful, natural, or historical about St. John’s, the current inefffective regulations need to be completely revamped. I say we need to do this now while there is still some views left to preserve!

  6. Mark Wilson · February 1, 2012

    Hey Jordan,

    Any focus on parking or the illusion of increased business based municipal taxes is really diverting from the real issue.

    Think longer term……

    Get over the parking issue St. john’s by thinking about public transit. Oh yeah, and while you are at it, think about how you would actually eat if food didn’t appear at the grocery store. Where would you grow it.

    Think longer term……

    Andrew is absolutely right about this type of gentrifying development creating a desolate ghost town out of the downtown. I am pretty sure that even the people that might rent the office space would hate to be in an aseptic downtown. Remember how Bay street in T-Dot feels?

    The arguement not for office space but for artist space is also important to bring into this dialogue. I see tons of office space for lease around town still. There are entire buildings that are abandoned.

    Fortis. Please just buy up a different building. I hear you can do well with a fixer upper. What about the old CBC or the one across the road from the old CBC.

    Fortis, you seem a bit selfish. Please learn to play and do what’s right for the PEOPLE of the city. OH! And stop writing comments fake comments on the Telegram website too. That’s lame!

    Yours,

    Mark Wilson

  7. Kyle · February 1, 2012

    It’s hilarious that Mark Wilson thinks just because there are people that want this city to prosper that they are writing fake comments. Words cannot express how thankful I am that he did not become mayor – so much for opinion and opposition. What do you want our city to look like in 20 years? Hopefully not any different than me! should have been his campaign slogan.

  8. Andrew Harvey · February 1, 2012

    Kyle,

    I am not sure your comment is fair considering Mark Wilson encouraged everyone to share their vision for St. John’s during (and since) the election.
    When was the last time any other member of council asked you, or this city, what their vision for St. John’s was? Council recently voted against a motion to open the option of reviewing our municipal plan, which is considered a “visioning” document. This means that it will be probably another year, possibly two, before public input is heard on the document which guides development in a very real way here in St. John’s.

    Andrew Harvey

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