Many people see the block on Water Street between Bishop’s Cove and Steer’s Cove as a black eye in what is supposed to be the historic area downtown. This block contains the old Woolworths building, and old Arcade site, but hopefully not for long, as council is looking to turn this shiner of a block into a shining example of a rejuvenated downtown.
On May third, council voted to send some proposed amendments of the municipal plan and development regulations to the Heritage Advisory committee for recommendations. The proposed changes would remove the entire block from heritage areas two and three, and designate them as “bonus sites” for additional height (up to ten stories.)
A proposal has been submitted for the old Woolworth’s building for eleven stories, but includes significant amounts of parking. The increased parking came at the request of council, who saw the development and location as ideal for increasing public parking in a downtown which is desperate for new parking (or fewer cars… Guess which one is more likely?)
This proposal is now awaiting the completion of a land-use assessment which would study the impact of the proposed development on the area in relation to views, wind, and light, among other things.
The old Arcade site had a proposal last summer which was rejected for several reasons, including height, a lack of parking, and a modern design which would not fit the heritage character the city is trying to promote. The company, Compusult Ltd., is now meeting with council and hopes to find a middle ground which will allow for the proposal to go ahead at the five stories. If the proposed changes to regulations go ahead, the height would be allowed, with a setback above the fourth story. The bigger issue for Compusult will be finding more space for parking, which council seems to be firm on since the adoption of the new Downtown Parking Study, and the removal of the parking exempt area.
Both of these developments would include retail space on street-level, and what would be considered “Class A” office space occupying the rest of the buildings. “Class A” office space is an invented category of perceived need, and has no official categorization from any regulatory body. It basically means really nice offices with modern amenities and features in a good location.
While amending the municipal plan and development regulations for an entire block is better than site-specific amendments like the city is infamous for, Tom Hann points out that it is a “piecemeal” way to address development regulations in St. John’s. Hann also stated that, as voted on in 2008, he wants the review of our regulations and the St. John’s Municipal Plan to wait until the completion of the province’s North-East Avalon Regional Plan, which they must comply with. The problem with this is that the provinces regional plan is probably another year from being completed (maybe two) and development in St. John’s will not wait.
Allowing what seems to be two popular developments to go ahead is probably a good idea, but still leaves us reacting to developments as they come in. What this city needs is a more proactive approach of open discussion on the future of our city between the public, developers, and council. At least they are looking two proposals into the future now, but we still have a big question mark at the other end of Water street.