Councillor says he resents innuendos he didn’t do his job
A St. John’s city councillor said he did what he was told to do regarding the proposal to redevelop the Virginia Park Plaza and was frustrated Monday that some councillors inferred he was trying to skirt procedure.
© — Telegram file photo
Ward 1 Coun. Danny Breen, whose ward includes 200-232 Newfoundland Dr., where the new development is proposed, recommended the project go ahead after he said he did what the planning committee suggested he do regarding the possible rezoning of the property.
“I find this very frustrating, and by the way, take some offence to the comment that this is smoke and mirrors, that this is somehow being construed as not being anti-democratic or me not wanting to have a public meeting,” said Breen, after several councillors expressed their concerns about a public meeting not being held for such a major project.
The proposal includes three phases — Phase 1 is a 122-residential condominium with commercial space; Phase 2 is a two-storey commercial building facing onto Newfoundland Drive; and Phase 3 is a five-storey, 140-residential unit on the east side of the parking lot.
Breen said that last October the planning and housing committee said the best process to follow would be to have the developer prepare a land use assessment report — which city staff found acceptable — advertise, send out public notifications to area residents, of which there were 300, and consult with residents.
He said if at the end of the consultation session a public meeting is required, council may agree to hold one.
“It was approved by the committee, presented to council and passed by council and now all of a sudden … I went out and did my work based on what I was told to do and I’m coming back with it now and we deal with it. This inference that somehow things are getting shifted around is foolishness. You shouldn’t have voted for it if you didn’t like it,” Breen told council.
“I have no problem with a public meeting. If I had my time back I would have voted for a public meeting. So I would suggest that perhaps we change our rules and make public hearings mandatory instead of something that we’re going to vote on and change our minds on after the fact, and I’ll bring in the notice of motion to that effect.”
It all got out of hand after Breen gave his presentation about the proposal and said while he received positive responses to the plan, there were some concerns about traffic, a lack of parking spaces and the use of a pathway for schoolchildren that could be lost if the development goes ahead.
Coun. Frank Galgay got the debate going when he said while he’s supportive of the project, the normal procedure is for council to hold a public meeting for such a project and there’s no reason to deviate from that. He said he also wouldn’t agree to vote for the project in piecemeal fashion.
Given the parking deficiencies and some of the issues surrounding Phase 3, Breen recommended allowing the first two phases go ahead and then hold a public meeting before Phase 3 begins.
Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff said she wasn’t comfortable with that and asked that the whole project be deferred until a public hearing goes ahead.
She said once the city rezones a piece of property it loses its right to make any changes even if it’s for the betterment of the area.
Ken O’Brien, the city’s chief municipal planner, confirmed for the deputy mayor that if council rezones land and an application is filed for that property that falls within the guidelines of that zoning, then it must be approved by council.
“However, in this case one of the things where the application as a whole is deficient is in parking. They are at least 24 parking spaces, perhaps more, depending on what types of commercial uses would go in the future building and at this stage there hasn’t been a request formally to be granted parking relief,” he told council.
“So on that basis alone if the first two phases are built, the third phase would put them over the amount of parking required and that would be something for council to consider as part of future zoning,” said O’Brien.
Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary, who seconded Duff’s amendment, which was unanimously passed, said while it is a fantastic development for the area, she wouldn’t support it being done in piecemeal fashion, either.
“If we know there are potential issues such as with parking deficiencies as has just been itemized, then what is the problem with having one more opportunity to bring it to the public to make sure we are all clear on it? Not only for councillors, but for the people who live there,” she said.
Regarding the idea behind the project, council agreed it is a positive development for the old building that has been empty for many years and was described as being a dump.
Breen said the units proposed for the condo are smaller in size, between 600 and 900 square feet, with an achievable price range between $180,000-$260,000, which will allow younger people starting out to invest in home ownership or for seniors who may want to downsize.
He said the original proposal had no commercial development allocated for it, but council asked the developer to have another look at that idea because people want neighbourhoods and amenities in those neighourhoods which have been lost, especially in this area.
“I believe it is a very positive project for the city and the area and provides housing in short supply and revitalizes a property that is at the end of its usefulness,” said Breen.