Council stirs up debate about road regionalization
St. John’s city Coun. Gerry Colbert gestures with his thumb to his nose to illustrate a point during the regular weekly council meeting Monday evening.
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
A proposal to build a new hotel on Kenmount Road erupted into a full-blown discussion at a St. John’s council meeting Monday evening about establishing regional roads and making communities in the area share in the upkeep.
The application by Pacific Coast Architecure Inc. for Northwood Properties Corp. is asking the city to allow it to build a six-storey hotel with a height of 23.9 metres in a zone where the maximum allowable height is 15 metres.
The height restriction will be dealt with involving a text amendment to the development regulations, but it was the concerns expressed about the increasing traffic on Kenmount Road that got council driving home how it feels about the regionalization of roads.
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said Kenmount Road is a road that serves people all over the region, and all one has to do to see that is look at the traffic coming in every morning and going out every evening.
“I have talked about the whole concept of the province establishing a regional road commission similar to the regional water board, whereby regional roads would be identified in various communities under the board and shared as to the maintenance and snowclearing and so on,” he said.
O’Keefe said the idea has to happen. He was encouraged by Premier Kathy Dunderdale, who said last week at the Atlantic Mayors Advisory Congress she believes in regionalization and everybody sharing the benefit of it.
“While I agree with you, it ain’t going to happen,” said Coun. Gerry Colbert, jumping to his feet.
“I hate to be the naysayer, but we have the Team Gushue Highway downloaded on us, and we decided to take it, because we thought it was the right thing to do.
“And it was the right thing to do. We have to have a road that connects throughout the city,” said Colbert.
“But the provincial government had it in their hands. They shouldn’t have gone to Mount Pearl or the City of St. John’s and said, ‘will you please help with this road? Will you please share the regionalization approach? Will you please work together to make this what it ought to be in this region?’ They came to Mount Pearl, and Mount Pearl put their hands on their noses and said, ‘Not us today,’” said the councillor, gesturing by putting his thumb to his nose.
“‘Give it to St. John’s. They’ll take care of it.’ And they walked away from it, and the government at the time should have had the guts to say, ‘You’re not walking away from it. You are going to take responsibility for it, and if you’re not going to take responsibility of it, then simply we’ll reduce your municipal operating grant to the tune that it takes to take care of it and that would have been the start of regionalization of our road system in the city,’” said an irate Colbert.
He said the ball was dropped by the provincial government on the Team Gushue Highway, but there’s still an opportunity for the government to say, “‘No, b’y, we’ve rethought this whole position and this is what’s going to happen, because we do need a regional road service and Team Gushue Highway is going to be our first priority, so get on with it.’”
Colbert sat down to councillors saying “here, here,” and the mayor agreeing with his stand.
The proposed development is located on the south side of Kenmount Road, about midway between Kelsey Drive and Pippy Place, and is adjacent to the Team Gushue Highway. Several buildings on the property, including Metro Place, the office used by the former St. John’s metropolitan area board, will be removed to accommodate the hotel.
“What we’ve suggested is staff look at a text amendment that allows as a discretionary use for the building of hotels, or whatever else people want to build in that zone, with the view to changing the requirement of 15 metres and allowing as a discretionary use to go higher and have more floor space,” said Coun. Tom Hann, chairman of the planning and housing standing committee.
He said given the area is in a commercial highway zone, it will more than likely be allowed as it doesn’t butt up against residential properties and would not have any affect on residents.
“We’re going to look at the application for the hotel, but before we do that we want to look at doing the text amendment and once we get that done it would be automatic then to bring it to council,” said Hann.
Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff and Coun. Sandy Hickman both agreed by increasing the height restriction it could open the area up for more development, but in order to deal with more traffic, more access roads should be developed.
“Most of us are frustrated driving up Kenmount Road as it is. We need to have upgraded access points where we combine several properties where we can and maybe engineer these a little better to make them more smoother and efficient and to create a safe driving environment for people who use the roads,” said Hickman.