Most candidates agree heritage regulations and height restrictions need update
When it comes to certain developments in St. John’s, not everybody believes the rules are meant to be broken.
When asked whether they think building height restrictions and heritage regulations should be strictly enforced in designated areas, 10 of the 30 candidates running for seats on
St. John’s council in the Sept. 24 election agreed city procedures should be followed at all cost and four disagreed.
Half of the respondents to The Telegram/St. John’s Board of Trade online survey failed to give a yes or no answer. But there seemed to be consensus that heritage areas should be protected and that the regulations needed to be revisited.
“I think the current building height restriction is not workable,” wrote Ward 1 Coun. Danny Breen, who has spent four years on council and was recently acclaimed.
“We need a balance in development and protecting our heritage that can be achieved without restricting height,” Ward 2 candidate Andrew Harvey agreed. “I think that as it stands now, our current regulations are not adequate. If we had a set of regulations that would allow developments we all want to see go ahead then I would agree regulations should be strictly enforced.”
Ron Ellsworth, who served on council in 2005 and is running for deputy mayor, said council is making many exceptions to the rules which is an indication it’s time for change.
“In many cases I think that the exceptions are reasonable, but it is a sign that we need to revisit and possibly rewrite the regulations to reflect our current needs,” he said in his survey response.
“Once we have new regulations, they should be strictly enforced. We shouldn’t need to allow any exceptions after that.”
His competition for the deputy mayor’s seat, Jennifer McCreath, said council isn’t following its own rules and is doing a poor job of explaining why.
“Current city council seems to break these rules at random, without any clear-cut guideline that demonstrates why or how the rules can be broken. We, as a new city council, need to engage all citizens to come up with a protocol that everyone can be comfortable with. While I think it is unavoidable to suggest that no further tall buildings should be erected downtown, I’d like to see a focus on building up in places outside of downtown.”
Two recent downtown proposals raised the ire of many residents and left them questioning council’s dedication to protecting downtown heritage and the purpose of having restrictions — one on Nunnery Hill, the other on Duckworth Street.
A five-unit townhouse development has been proposed for the land between Nunnery Hill and Duckworth Street. It’s 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 second proposal is to construct a hotel and apartments at 83 and 90 Duckworth St., called the Light House Project.
During a public meeting in May, residents complained the buildings would be in a heritage area and would obstruct the view.
Coun. Sandy Hickman, who is seeking his second term as councillor-at-large, said the rules should be enforced, but some areas have no historical significance.
“The short answer is yes, but the need to protect the look and feel of downtown has to be segregated by district within the area,” he said. “There are areas that are designated heritage that have little or no heritage value. The west end of downtown is one of them. Areas such as Water and Duckworth streets between Prescott and Adelaide are our most important streetscapes and have to be protected closely. But we must protect the downtown vernacular at all costs and regulate creativity in architecture that reflects that.”
Mayoral candidate Geoff Chaulk says more imagination is needed regarding downtown development.
“We need to engage creative architects to boldly mix the old with the new and strengthen and protect what we have now,” he wrote. “See Fogo, London, Amsterdam as examples of protecting and strengthening the old and adding the new.”
Ward 2 candidate Jonathan Galgay supports development, but agrees with protecting the city’s heritage by respecting the rules.
“If too much change happens to a neighbourhood, it may lose the characteristics which made it desirable in the first place. Currently our regulations are not being enforced, and therefore developers continuously request exemptions to regulations. It’s time for the city to enforce the rules or to re-evaluate,” Galgay wrote.
Last week, The Telegram sent all 30 St. John’s candidates a link to an online survey. A joint project of The Telegram and the Board of Trade, the survey polled candidates on 15 key issues. Only one candidate — Ward 5 incumbent Wally Collins — didn’t respond.
In the coming days, The Telegram will publish stories outlining candidates’ positions on those issues.