St. John’s City Hall Cliff Notes

Downtown Mega-Projects

The last year has seen an explosion in mega-project developments downtown. Ground has been broken on a couple big ones so far:

The Henry-Bell Project, at the end of Duckworth Street, includes the old CBC building and the massive hole they are digging next door. This project will see five storeys of condos on top of five storeys of parking garage, including over 200 public parking spaces. Phase two of the project will include the redevelopment of the tallest eyesore downtown, the old Newfoundland Telephone building across the street.

Eastport Properties has wasted no time getting started on their six storey office building and parking garage at 351 Water Street. The building is slated to be ready for tenants in 2013, and it has already won awards for it’s LEED design and sea-water cooling system. It will also add 246 public parking spaces.

Bike Lanes

The last year has also seen the implementation of the first phase of the Cycling Master Plan. The system includes bike lanes, sharrows (painted arrows telling drivers to be nice and share the road), multi-use trails, and route signage. As it stands now, there are only routes scattered from the West End, through the University, to Downtown, out past Quidi Vidi and up the Virginia River Trail. Only time (and the presence of federal and provincial funding) will tell whether or not the system will be grown into the full network laid out in the Master Plan.

Sidewalk Snow Clearing

After a decade(s) long public lobby for improved sidewalk snow clearing the city finally responded, by doubling the snow clearing budget! This may sound impressive, but it is an easy thing to do when the previous budget was only $400,000. The other disappointing part of this announcement is that the doubling of the budget only saw a small increase in the amount of sidewalks cleared. The new money instead was used to speed up the clearing of sidewalks already covered. On the plus side, we now have three new sidewalk plows, which hopefully will lead to further improvements in the future. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another decade.

Crumbling Infrastructure

If you live around Mayor Avenue and Merry-meeting Road, or Portugal Cove Road and Newfoundland Drive then our city’s crumbling infrastructure is not news. While the leaky water mains in these areas are slated to be replaced thanks to $8 million of the $10 million surplus from last year, there remain other areas still reliant upon the same hundred year-old pipes. The city as a whole has more than a $200 million infrastructure deficit that they don’t seem able to do much about without help. While help from the federal government seems like a write-off, the city has heated up it’s war of words with the provincial government over the last year, calling for a new fiscal arrangement. They are looking for everything from a break on the provincial portion of the HST for city expenses, to the Province to start paying property tax in the city. This year’s provincial budget was stay-the-course, and didn’t include any of these measures, but they have promised to look into it. I doubt this will be good enough to satisfy cash-strapped municipalities in the province for long. The next year should prove interesting.

The 190M Contour

The province recently approved an amendment to regulations to allow development in St. John’s above 190m elevation. Development was initially prohibited because of the high cost of servicing areas such as this with water and sewer (i.e. pumping water uphill). Apparently now that these are the only areas left to squish more houses in between here and Mount Pearl, it has become feasible to let development go ahead here. This clears the way for large developments around Kenmount Road, and Danny-Stan: Danny Willam’s Gander-sized mega-development in the Southlands.

Municipal Plan Review

The last year has seen the start of the long-overdue review of The St. John’s Municipal Plan. The plan is supposed to guide all development in the city—mostly land use and zoning—but functionally it affects nearly all municipal activities. The review kicked off with a fantastic, and engaging Mayor’s Symposium in February, facilitated by the Rural Secretariat. Disappointingly, the dozen or so follow-up consultation sessions have been the standard variety “public consultation” gripe-fests where input is merely summarized by a recording secretary. But have faith fellow citizens, the review is still ongoing and the city promises to have a final public consultation to review the new plan before it is finalized and set in stone. And by set in stone I mean set only to be reviewed dozens and dozens of times whenever they feel like it.
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