Too much of a good thing?

Dave Bartlett
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Some residents feeling left out as capital city booms

Frank Galgay

Development in St. John’s is an issue that often polarizes members of city council and the public at large.

A few weeks ago, The Telegram did a story about the rate of growth in the city.

That generated a lot of comments on The Telegram’s website and to the newsroom from people with a myriad of concerns about developments near their homes or the rate of growth in general.

Courtney Young lives on Airport Road in the city’s east end.

When she bought her home she knew it was on the edge of a commercial zone, but at the time it was next to a wooded area.

Young said she received assurances from the city that a 14-foot treed buffer zone and fence would be left between her home and the office building going up next door.

She said the promises made were gradually broken.

“If you’re told, basically, there’s going to be a small forest left in between you and this building, you expect it to be somewhat what they agreed to,” said Young.

“Now, there are six trees in  between me and them.”

She said the large two-storey building is encased in glass.

“When I go out with my children in my backyard, I have this large office building peering down on me, which is very intimidating,” said Young.

The lack of trees means more snow on her property and a soggier spring. Young said she’s been told large evergreens will be planted in the buffer zone, but she said she’s skeptical.

“It seems that they make all these promises to shut me up, but nothing happens,” said Young.

Dick Atwill lives across town on Old Bay Bulls Road. His major issue is about the loss of farmland, green space and the effect development is having on the city’s waterways.

The river behind his house, a branch of the Waterford, was 30 feet wide and several feet deep 25 years ago.

“My kids used to catch fish right by the side of the house,” he said. “The stream used to be teeming with them. But there’s hardly a fish left there now.”

Since residential developments have occurred upstream, he said the river is now only about eight feet across and normally only ankle deep. Runoff from rain used to only have a gradual effect, as the ground absorbed much of the water before it reached the river.

However, now when there’s a heavy rainstorm and water from catch basins in those developments divert water directly into the river, there’s a danger of flooding.

Atwill said he also worries the farms in the area may be forced out by residential subdivisions if people start complaining about the smell of cows.

“One of the biggest problems is a lack of planning. This (development surge) came on us too quick and it’s just (a) money grab,” he said.

The city had put a review of its current municipal plan on hold while it waited for the province to finish its regional plan for the Northeast Avalon.

However, council recently re-scinded that decision, as there is still no word from the province on when the regional plan will be completed.

Ward 2 Coun. Frank Galgay is the chairman of the city’s planning committee. He told The Telegram recently the review is still in its infancy.

“The review of the St. John’s municipal plan and ... development regulations is long overdue,” admitted Galgay.

“We cannot wait for the regional plan. ... It could be years before it’s done.”

He said it’s essential to get the plan updated, amended and adjusted to deal with the significant growth in the city.

But Galgay is also well aware of the tension between residents and development. He said he believes there is a balance between progress and preservation.

“We must meet the needs of the 21st century. ... We have to be visionary. We have to be proactive and this city, despite ourselves, is going to expand in leaps and bounds,” he said.

Galgay said it’s council’s obligation to see that development is done properly and said councillors often walk a thin line.

“It’s not an easy task. It’s very difficult to balance both points of view,” he said.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Old Bay Bulls Road, Northeast Avalon.However

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Recent comments

  • Kate
    July 26, 2011 - 06:30

    I have a problem with it when real estate companies are allowed to buy up land and put more houses than needed on the land and sell them faster than people need homes, leaving smaller houses to price at way above their worth and slowly the landscape disappears and we have nothing to look at but pavement and other homes. We used to be able to see moose out our living room window and now we see a retail development and a new highway. No animal to be seen.....How long before there is no nature here. I have only been here 4 years and already development spreads like cancer.....Not good....

    • David
      July 26, 2011 - 16:05

      You've idnetified 3 separte "guily" parties in your post...real estate companies, developers, and home buyers. That's pretty much evereyone involved...which ios why you need a sober, objective arbitrator called "municipla council" to make sure things are done in the best, long-term interest of everyone. Alas, St. John's council has effectively abdicated their role, and it's a genuine development frenzy. They never end well, and this one won't either. A big difference will be the lack of a future economic boom to eventually get some sort of do-over or second shot at it, like other cities that enjoy reasonable proximity to other places and economic forces eventually get. Not us.

  • Walter Miller
    July 25, 2011 - 16:07

    I'm planning on returning to St.John's to spend my salad,golden or whatever cliched phrase you wish to insert to define retirement.After reading this article,I may have to alter my priorities somewhat,it seems the St.John's of my childhood no longer exists and never will.I may have to purchase a pair of"permanently"rose coloured glasses.

  • dontgetmestarted
    July 25, 2011 - 13:09

    It seems that every week the Home Buyers guide gets bigger & bigger along the the size & price of the houses. There is a critical mass that will topple eventually if the City doesn't start proper planning. All the water/sewer sevices are pushed to the limits due to this boom in building & it's happening faster than the City can prepare alternate water sources.

  • Joseph McGrath
    July 25, 2011 - 12:30

    St.John's is quickly becoming "A multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, lined up inflexibly, at uniform distances, on uniform roads, in a treeless communal waste, inhabited by people of the same class, the same income, the same age group, witnessing the same television performances, eating the same tasteless prefabricated foods, from the same freezers, conforming in every outward and inward respect to the common mold. - Lewis Mumford, The City in History (1961) Alas I see this continuing.

  • harlee
    July 25, 2011 - 11:13

    This is not only St. John's, take a look at Paridise,Torbay,Witless Bay,Pouch Cove and it goes on and on. What is the common denominator here! Municipal Affairs, Department of the Provincial Government. The only rules are the contractors rules! Buffer Zones,Trailways,peoples privacy/rights, all mean nothing to the all mighty dollar!

  • Topher Mittens
    July 25, 2011 - 09:27

    Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours later... Simple enough... Starting to see the big city problems that happened years ago. Get used to it cause more problems will be occurring as the City gets bigger.

    • Courtney Young
      July 25, 2011 - 11:36

      My thoughts exactly, the city is not there to support it residents ( who pay propery tax too) They seem to be more interested in the larger developments. Here is some of the support I have recieved from the city in regards to this matter: 1. In response to the last complaint regarding the trees, PHB indicatedthat: "There were some trees removed in order to install the fence line, andthen there were the trees removed for the site clearing. This is all thetrees that were removed for some time. Then Igor hit town and a fewtrees came down (one large one taking a few smaller ones with it) oncethis got cleared up the trees were thinned at north east side near thebuilding. When site services started, a few smaller trees (not largemature ones, but more or less screen trees) were removed in order totrench. This left only a few trees with very few branches to a height8-10 feet from ground making the tree band look almost none existent atthe northern corner in the area when property line and building areclosest". "We are of the opinion that there is potential for more trees to comedown as well in high winds. It is our experience that large trees, whichwere protected by groups of trees do not have deep anchor roots, andonce these trees are exposed to the winds they often times blow down.However, we will be undertaking substantial landscaping on the site andthis area will be replanted with trees, to the largest extent possible.It is our intent to be good neighbors and for this property to look andfeel spectacular from a landscape perspective." Here are a couple of photos of the site as it currently exists: (See attached file: IMG_4784.jpg)(See attached file: IMG_4783.jpg)As you can see, what remains of the existing buffer is not ideal. Howeverthe actual landscaping has not even been started at this point, so it ishard to judge whether or not the end result is going to address all of Ms.Young's concerns. A landscaping plan was submitted by PHB and subsequentlyreviewed and accepted by Parks & Planning. It is most likely going tobe the case that the screen will be excellent during the summer when thetrees are in full bloom, but not so great in the winter when the leaveshave fallen. With respect to increased snow accumulation: While the thinning of thetrees and erection of the building and fence has undoubtedly changed snowdrifting patterns in this area, it is difficult to control where / how thesnow will accumulate. Also, we have no before / after basis on which toverify Ms. Young's claim that more snow now accumulates on her property.As far as I am aware, this (i.e. snow accumulation) is not something thatthe City has ever addressed in the past. Again, this issue will probablycome down to the landscaping between the two properties. With respect to potential flooding of Ms. Young's septic system: The PHBsite has a storm drainage system that has been built to handle runoff fromtheir site, the installation of which has most likely also improveddrainage of the entire area. Essentially everything inside the privacyfence drains to the storm system on the PHB site. As such any runoffgenerated on this property will not effect neighboring properties. Finally, I agree with Ms. Young's assertion that the fact that there areexisting houses should be given some respect. With the erection of thefence and the indication that they (PHB) intend to do what they can withrespect to landscaping, I believe it has. While this development has had asignificant impact on the property adjacent to Ms. Young's, this entirearea has been zoned CH/COH for quite some time and the existing houses area non-conforming use in the CH zone. Given the existing zoning,development of the property adjacent to Ms. Young's was inevitable at somepoint. The City's Regulations with respect to privacy between commercialproperties adjacent to residential areas is either a landscaped buffer (3mwide) or a fence. In this case, both a fence and a landscaped buffer (thatis significantly wider than the minimum required) has been provided. I am available at your convenience should you require any additionalinformation. Manager of Development - Engineering ServicesCity of St. John's

  • Eli
    July 25, 2011 - 08:37

    He's bought and sold. Remember the Sobeys turkeys?

    • Leftout
      July 25, 2011 - 15:01

      On the other side of this situation, when is someone going to approve more development in the Shea Heights area??? There are generations of young people wanting to build on several areas of vacant land but nothing is happening to improve the much needed upgrades to help the growing population of this area. When is it their turn for the city to put some funding forward for the also tax paying citizens?

  • David
    July 25, 2011 - 07:42

    St. John's locally-sourced and development-ignorant government is entirely unprepared and unqualified to handle the intoxicating pressure exerted by developers who want to make an easy buck. Add to this the "normal" situation in every city, where some councillors are in the pockets of the developers, and you've really got a recipe for screwing St. John's royally.

  • anna
    July 25, 2011 - 07:32

    Again, how did that house on Rennie's Mill Road get approved, was it because Dobbin was the last name? The Hertitage Committee picks on whom it likes, example the proposed building on Harvey Road, yet lets this house go up in a residential neighbourhood. There is no development plan, look at downtown, we gave up eating there as there is no where to park.

  • Saucy Face
    July 25, 2011 - 06:50

    “Galgay says we must meet the needs of the 21st century. ... " That's a very contradictory remark coming from a councillor who believes that the downtown should stay in the 19th century.