Notes from city hall.
So! Fortis dropped the expected bomb of their formal proposal for the redevelopment of their Water street property last on January 19th. They want to build a 15-storey development in an area where buildings are limited to 4 storeys.
Before we can even think of if they should or should not, a larger question needs to be asked: What kind of city do we want St. John’s to be?
The Municipal Plan lays out a vision for St. John’s, which is what we want our city to become, as well as regulations, which are how we achieve that vision. Zoning laws and building regulations are quite possibly the most important tasks for any municipality. It’s what stops your neighbour from operating a plastics factory next to your house, or a company from opening a 24-hour strip club on your cul-du-sac… When exceptions are made, the whole reason for having regulations is tossed out the window.
Another part of the problem is that our present Municipal Plan was adopted in 2003, and was scheduled for review 5 years from then—meaning a review is almost two years overdue.
The Fortis proposal represents a breaking point for the city of St. John’s. If this proposal goes ahead, and the regulations are once again ignored for an individual development, property owners everywhere will realize that the regulations have become meaningless. The city will have set a precedent that they will entertain and approve proposals which fall outside of the regulations. We will then be voting on site-specific amendments to the municipal plan every week at council, passing any that can get 6 votes.
As it stands now, the Fortis proposal is in the hands of city staff, who are preparing recommendations to give to the Planning and Housing committee of council. What should happen is staff should recommend denying the proposal, citing the dozen or so ways it falls outside the regulations. Then council should immediately start the process of extensive public review to create a revised vision for the city, and set of regulations we can all agree on. After this, we’ll stand by the regulations, and we’ll make it clear to developers that the regulations are laws, not suggestions.
Only then can we guide this city to continue to grow into a place we all want to live, work, and play in. If the Fortis redevelopment goes ahead, you can expect me to be submitting my own proposal for a 40-storey plastics factory and strip club on Signal Hill.