Say public view of harbour will be eliminated
Lionel West looks over the area of a proposed housing development near Nunnery Hill Wednesday. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Lionel West always knew the day would come when the picturesque view of Signal Hill and The Narrows from Nunnery Hill would be restricted by development.
But he says he can’t believe city council would allow the public view to be obliterated.
Having lived on the hill off Holloway Street in downtown St. John’s for 14 years, West and other residents are appalled by the idea that such a panoramic view available to many would be sacrificed for the few in a new housing complex.
“We’re not trying to be selfish about this. We’re just trying to preserve what I would say is a pretty unique perspective of St. John’s in the downtown,” West told The Telegram Wednesday while overlooking Nunnery Hill.
The proposal is a point of contention for people who say it is a public view used by tourists, photographers and citizens in the downtown looking for a quiet place to sit and take a breath.
The application before city council is to develop a five-unit townhouse on the land between Nunnery Hill and Duckworth Street. The project is in a residential zone — and heritage Zone 2, which outlines height restrictions for buildings — and is permitted under the St. John’s development regulations.
The matter was supposed to be called before the city’s heritage advisory committee Wednesday, chaired by Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff, but she said it wasn’t.
“There actually are no (plans) that are ready to come before the committee. So we did not deal with it, and all we deal with, on that committee, is issues of compliance with heritage regulations and design issues, so it’s still an issue for the planning and development committee,” Duff said Wednesday.
When the application was called Monday before council, planning and development committee chairman Coun. Tom Hann asked for it to be deferred for another week.
“We have deferred it to meet with the developer because there were some concerns expressed about the view and the development in that area, and we will review that to see if there’s anyway we can mitigate some of the concerns,” said Hann, adding the city is not responsible for protecting public or private views.
West said he gets that. But what bothers him is how the city uses its discretion to change regulations to allow developments to build taller buildings, but not to protect and maintain a public view plane.
“We are accepting of that,” West said of the city not protecting view planes.
“We are disappointed, but we accept that our private view plane may be lost. But we’re emphasizing the loss of the public view plane. We’re not against the idea of something going there. We just think there are alternatives to the proposal. Put the houses at the far end of the lot and maintain the public view plane,” he said.
The proposal is to front the three-level townhouses on Nunnery Hill. Each unit would have indoor parking and would be accessed from Holloway Street.
A memorandum from the city manager says the project will block the private views of the properties on the north side of Nunnery Hill and possibly other properties in the area. However, there are no provisions in the St. John’s development regulations for the protection of private views.
“As upsetting as this may be to anyone so adversely affected, council’s position on this is understandable,” resident Bob Oxley wrote to The Telegram.
“However, the view from Nunnery Hill is only partly private. In fact, it is a very public view. My house, on Holloway, looks out on Nunnery Hill and I cannot begin to count the number of people who, over a year, come to it to take in the view and, in most cases, photograph it. To encroach any further on the view from Nunnery Hill and allow a row of houses would be a move that would create a lasting blight,” he wrote.
Oxley suggested that a developer, working with the city, could create an attractive and suitable housing project without destroying a valuable, irreplaceable asset.
West said one thing that lingers about the whole process is the lack of consultation.
“Because this development fits within the current zoning, the public or the residents nearby don’t have to be informed, and to me, I believe, on occasions like this where there is such an impact on the residents, they should review this policy” he said.
“At the minimum I would have thought they would have sent out a notice to people within 150 metres to advise us this was going on. And when we went knocking on people’s doors nobody knew about it,” he said, adding at least people are talking about it now and council appears to be listening.
An online petition opposing the project on the website change.org has been circulated and sent to council. At last check it had 254 names. To view what people are saying go to the website and search nunnery hill.