Assisted-living complex gets second chance

Dave Bartlett
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Court sends proposal back to council public meeting date pushed back

A controversial development in Kilbride will be debated a second time by St. John's city council.

But the developer isn't happy council has already pushed back the date of a new public hearing on the project.

In November 2010, the council turned down a proposal by Seanic Canada Inc. to build a 69-bed assisted-living seniors' complex in the Richmond Hill area of Kilbride - between Old Petty Harbour Road, Dorsey's Lane and Carondale Drive.

The vote occurred after a well-attended public meeting where many residents voiced their opposition to the project.

Issues raised at that meeting included traffic, the preservation of the land for green space and the appropriateness of an assisted-living complex for the neighbourhood.

Three councillors wanted the vote deferred until Seanic had an opportunity to address the traffic issue.

The company asked for time to do a second traffic study.

However, the motion to defer was defeated.

The company then took the city to court, claiming the council acted improperly by turning down the development.

Lawyer Michael Crosbie represented Seanic and its president, Sean Callahan.

Crosbie argued in court that when council evaluates developments between two parties, it has to be fair to both sides and make decisions based on planning considerations and not act arbitrarily. His second argument was that council didn't base its decision on all the information, because it voted against the deferral.

According to court documents from June 2011, Justice Alphonsus Faour agreed with Crosbie's argument that council has to be fair and not arbitrary, but felt the reasons councillors gave for voting against the project during the November 2010 council meeting were based largely on planning considerations.

"I do believe there were reasons," said Faour. "The council, in my view, expressed legitimate concerns. The residents, in expressing their wish that the project not proceed, were expressing legitimate concerns."

But Faour did send the matter back to the city on the second issue - that it voted against deferral without having all the information.

"My decision is not based on the inadequacy of reasons by the council, but it is based on my view that ... council may not have had all the information that it ought to have had," Faour said.

Therefore, the city was obliged to have another look at Seanic's proposal.

A second public meeting was scheduled for Feb. 1.

Deferral requested

But at this week's city council meeting, Ward 5 Coun. Wally Collins asked that the public meeting be defered for two weeks.

"The Kilbride (citizens') committee ... wanted a 30-day extension to get all their ducks in a row and get (a) presentation ready," Collins said.

"To be fair to the proponent, we're going to delay it for two weeks."

Council then voted to move the date of the public meeting, which according to the city's website is now scheduled for Feb. 23.

Callahan told The Telegram this week that he's not happy his project will face yet another delay.

He said his first application to develop the land dates back to 2006, when he first asked to put seniors condos on the property, but changed his proposal in 2009 to an assisted-living complex, which Callahan says he will operate.

Callahan also said if council turns down his project again, he will go back to court, as he and Crosbie still believe council was acting on "not-in-my-backyard" complaints instead of valid planning reasons.

Coun. Tom Hann is chairman of the city's planning committee.

He agreed changing the date of a public meeting is "quite uncommon" and worries council may have set a precedent.

"It's the first time I've seen it happen with regard to a public hearing," said Hann. "It's highly unusual."

Hann said he wonders what happens the next time a group asks council to change the date of a public meeting, and how that could delay other projects from starting.

When asked if there is a concern the courts could limit council's discretion if the matter finds its way back before a judge, Hann said he couldn't speak for council as a whole, but it is a concern for him.

Hann said a discussion between council and the city's legal team has to happen in the near future to find out what the implications may be.

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Seanic Canada, The Telegram

Geographic location: Kilbride, St. John's, Richmond Hill Old Petty Harbour Road

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