Councillors vote 8-2 to accept Native Friendship Centre’s application
This house on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John’s will become a daycare now that the
St. John’s Native Friendship Centre’s proposal to start the facility has been approved by city council. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
It was standing room only at St. John’s city council’s meeting Monday as people for and against a daycare proposal squeezed next to each other to hear councillors debate the application.
After more than 30 minutes when Mayor Dennis O’Keefe asked for the vote, the public gallery erupted into a loud round of applause.
In a vote of 8-2 the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre’s application for a daycare centre at 97 Elizabeth Ave. was approved.
It was touch and go as Coun. Sandy Hickman, who chaired a public information session on the proposal two weeks ago, told council city staff had recommended rejecting the application because of traffic concerns.
“I must admit I was a bit nervous,” said David Penner, the Native Friendship Association’s executive director.
“I think our proposal has its merits, as you heard council say it was well prepared, we addressed the concerns thoroughly and our application meets and exceeds every requirement,” he said.
Hickman, who also voted to reject the application when it first came to council last month, said he shares the same safety concerns as staff.
“I really like the plan they have in place. What they are trying to do is a great thing, the location is the problem. I certainly couldn’t live with myself if a child was injured on Elizabeth Avenue,” he said.
Penner readily admits it is a busy street and that is one of the reasons it was picked.
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“I certainly acknowledge that. We want to be on a street where there is a bus service. There’s no bus service on a street that isn’t busy. This is where we have to be. For us the location is perfect,” he said.
Just before the debate got started, Hickman said the area is residential and is a stable neighbourhood.
“It is not a transitional neighbourhood and I think we need to be protecting our neighbourhoods a little more than we have. While obviously this is a not-for-profit organization, there is a commercial element to it,” said Hickman.
Coun. Frank Galgay, who supported the application, said while Elizabeth Avenue is in a residential zone he’d hardly describe it as strictly residential.
“I wouldn’t define it as a pristine and a purely residential area,” he said, rhyming off several businesses in the area such as Allan’s Video, Elizabeth Towers and a government office.
“So to say we must preserve it is not really factual,” he said.
Galgay said the daycare centre is an excellent contribution for the people who will use it who are mostly students planning to attend Memorial or College of the North Atlantic to better themselves academically.
“In our municipal plan it encourages the presence of daycare centres in the city. We have them on Torbay Road, on Freshwater Road and what a wonderful presence it will bring to the neighbourhood.”
The other councillor who voted to accept staff’s recommendation to reject the application, Coun. Danny Breen, said he believes it will lead to further commercial development on the street and is afraid there may be some issues arise regarding traffic.
However, he did commend the association for its plan.
Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary, who voted for the proposal, said there is a desperate need for daycares in St. John’s.
She said she was concerned that when the proposal first came to council it was recommended for approval, but council decided to defer it in order to hold a public information session and after that it was recommended for rejection.
“So I’m no quite sure what happened there, but (the association) has gone above and beyond in trying to create good neighbourhood relations and I believe they have gone above the regulations and its children. We’re talking about taking care of children in the community,” she said.
While the daycare centre might not be ready for the start of this school year, Penner said at least this is one more hurdle the association has cleared.
“This is just another hoop we had to jump through. We will look at what the next stages are. We’ll work in concert with the province of course and work with the city as well in moving forward,” he said.
“I don’t think we’ll be ready for September, if we’re going to talk September 2014 maybe.”
He said the building will need some renovations and they’ll look into what they have to do not to infringe upon their neighbours’ privacy.
“I actually look forward to meeting them all and I think they’ll see — we’ve been at 716 (Water Street, the association’s office) almost 10 years and there were issues arriving there in a residential neighbourhood and we haven’t had any problems. We look forward to being there and they will see are a very good neighbour,” Penner said.