Mount Pearl city planner Stephen Jewczyk explains a pilot project, proposed by Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp., to reconfigure a single, attached housing unit on Spruce Avenue to provide two one-bedroom units, during a public hearing at city hall Tuesday night. Photo by Deana Stokes Sullivan/The Telegram
The City of Mount Pearl was sent a clear message Tuesday night: residents in the Spruce Avenue
/Commander Place area are not in favour of a pilot project proposed by Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC).
The proposal involves reconfiguring a single, attached housing unit with three bedrooms on Spruce Avenue into two one-bedroom units.
About 60 people attended a public hearing held in the council chambers, with councillors saying meetings at city hall usually don't draw such a large crowd. Twenty written representations were received prior to the meeting, in addition to verbal representations.
Melissa Kinsella, who submitted a written presentation and spoke at the meeting, said she lives in the unit identified for the pilot, but wasn't notified by NLHC in advance. She said when she first heard about the proposal, she contacted NLHC and a housing officer told her she had no knowledge of it.
"I'm a single mother with three kids. What are you going to do with me?" she asked.
Dean Collins, representing NLHC, said whenever units are renovated, the tenants are consulted and a decision made to best suit their needs.
A young girl in the room also asked what will happen to children like herself - will they have to move to other neighbourhoods and be separated from their friends?
Deputy Mayor Jim Locke, chairman of the city's land use and planning committee who chaired the meeting, told her not to worry because this is still only an application for one housing unit and council hasn't made any decision on it yet.
Locke said information from the public hearing will go back to his committee for discussion and then will be presented to council. Residents were assured they will be notified in advance of the date the application will be voted on by council.
City planner Stephen Jewczyk said the proposal arose out of discussions between the city and NLHC over the past three to four years about the corporation wanting to provide more affordable housing. One way to do this, he said, is for NLHC to reconfigure existing units.
Jewczyk said the proposal would require rezoning and an amendment to Mount Pearl's development regulations to allow higher residential density in the area.
Collins said NLHC hasn't been able to meet recent demands for one and two-bedroom units and the objective of pilot projects, proposed for Mount Pearl, St. John's and Corner Brook is to reconfigure larger units to provide one and two-bedroom units.
He said the Spruce Avenue proposal involves taking a three-bedroom housing unit and converting it to two units - a one-bedroom unit on the lower level and one-bedroom unit on the upper level.
Residents at the meeting voiced concerns about existing traffic congestion, the possibility that their property values will drop with the zone change and that this project will be just the beginning of more housing reconfigurations.
Jim Saunders said Spruce Avenue isn't wide enough now for two cars to pass when a vehicle is parked on the street, the residents are still waiting for sidewalks and there are problems with vandalism.
"If Newfoundland and Labrador Housing doesn't have a use for these houses as they are now, sell them off," Saunders said, receiving a round of applause.
Allison Pennell said she's opposed to families being torn apart by decisions like this.
Ella Button said she fears if this project is approved, there will be a larger proposal down the road.
Ben Dunne, a resident of Smallwood Drive, agreed.
"I think the Spruce Avenue thing is a test case. If one gets through, it will open the floodgates," he said.
Glenda Parsons, a resident in the area for more than 30 years, said NLHC hasn't been a good neighbour. "I don't blame the residents," she said, "but NLHC neglects their properties."
Steve Kent, MHA for the area, was in the audience listening to the concerns before speaking himself. He said he was shocked to hear residents directly affected by this were not contacted by NLHC in advance.
Kent said he doesn't believe increasing the density in what's already a high-density area is a good move. However, he said, having been on the other side of the room in the past, serving on Mount Pearl council, "I feel very confident that this council will listen to your concerns."