Weve got a right to our views

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Go to just about any Canadian city and you can find a section that looks familiar. Chances are, it will contain all or some of the following: Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Swiss Chalet, Boston Pizza, McDonald's, Future Shop.
Big-box stores are immensely popular with consumers for the wide variety of merchandise they carry and the great prices they can offer based on the sheer volume of their sales.
And there's comfort in conformity; people find it reassuring that the quarter-chicken dinner they buy in St. John's will taste exactly the same as the one they order at the Swiss Chalet drive-thru in Etobicoke, Ont., and that the Canadian Tire money they saved up in Halifax will be worth the same at a store in Moose Jaw, Sask.
But Canadian cities also pride themselves on their differences, and some of them are willing to fight to protect what makes them unique.
And sometimes, that's as simple as the right to a certain view.
In Halifax, views of the harbour from Citadel Hill are sacrosanct. In Ottawa, it's the sightline to the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. In Montreal, there are rules to ensure unobstructed views of Mount Royal.

Pride of place
There are many places in this bowl-shaped city of ours that scream "St. John's," including the view of the ships and the downtown skyline from Southside Road, the panoramic view from Shea Heights, the colourful houses of The Battery clinging indomitably to the cliffs, the quaint character of Quidi Vidi Village and the view of the harbour from anywhere it can be seen.
If "Republic of Doyle" has done something for this city besides showcasing it to the rest of Canada, stimulating the economy and providing entertainment, it's engendered a fierce sense of pride among many people who live here.
St. John's city council has a responsibility to protect this city's signature views for all its residents, and not just for citizens or corporations with thick wallets.
The Fortis proposal to redevelop its Water Street east properties and build a 15-storey office tower flies in the face of the city's own downtown strategy.
St. John's has height restrictions on downtown buildings. This proposal does not meet the rules. Therefore, the proposal shouldn't be considered.
If I decided to build a turret on the top of my house, thereby blocking my neighbour's line of sight, the fine folks at City Hall would laugh me and my application out onto the street.
The same should happen here.

Follow the rules
Consider some of the downtown development fiascos of the past (some due to building design, some due to ruined views): Atlantic Place, the Fortis and TD buildings, the Scotiabank Tower, the townhouses on Dublin Rowe and City Hall itself.
And then consider the city's own Downtown Strategy Final Report from 2001, which makes several salient points. (Excerpts from the report are in italics; the comments in parentheses are mine):
While the City of St. John's was at the head of the pack in Canada in designating historic districts, its preservation planning efforts for the heritage areas have not kept pace with the best of contemporary practice.
• Legal mechanisms to protect heritage properties and areas are often seen as obstacles for investment. … Yet, heritage regulations are really no different than other regulatory measures used to protect the public interest in planning and development matters. They are part of the "rules of the game," and their basic objective is to ensure orderly growth and the wise management of change.

(The key word here is "wise.")
… the city cannot be passive. It must be fully prepared to launch an energetic campaign of self-promotion for its downtown, putting forward its own dramatic and exciting vision of what it wants its downtown to look like.
(And that vision should not be limited to how much tax revenue a development will bring in, nor should it place commercial interests before the public good.)
Once adopted, the vision must be consistently adhered to. This is particularly challenging when applicants for inappropriate development complain of hardship, and/or make promises that their development will produce wealth and jobs.
(So, when Fortis says on its website, "The project is estimated to provide approximately 400,000 person hours of construction related work," that should not influence the city's stand on the proposed development. Besides, surely a more heritage-sensitive design would require a comparable amount of construction work?)
The lessons to be learned from other places which have embraced a heritage ethic are clear: economic development can co-exist with heritage and can be mutually complementary. … Strong, committed and visible municipal leadership is essential.
• In terms of the Fortis property in question, the city report is clear: Development higher than four storeys may be suitable (in) the Harbour Drive block between Baird's Cove and the intersection of Harbour Drive and Water Street. … If development higher than four storeys is considered in this block, then it is recommended that the building facades and retail space on Water Street be retained, and public views preserved.

It can't get much clearer than that. The city has committed to protecting the downtown heritage district. The consultants have been hired and the reports written, tabled and adopted.
Why are we even having this debate again?

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read the Downtown Strategy Final Report online at http://www.stjohns.ca/cityservices/planning/index.jsp.

Organizations: Canadian Tire, Swiss Chalet, Wal-Mart Home Depot Boston Pizza McDonald's Future Shop Peace Tower on Parliament Hill Mount Royal Scotiabank Tower

Geographic location: St. John's, Halifax, Water Street Canada Etobicoke Moose Jaw, Sask. Ottawa Montreal Southside Road Quidi Vidi Village

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Recent comments

  • I never thought...
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Goodtimes blog exclusive reaction to the new Fortis development in downtown St John's --

    http://urlgray.ca/goodtimes

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjKVjPGSER0

  • Chris
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    'It must be nice though, Pam to have this soapbox to put YOUR opinions foreward, maybe some of us would be allowed the same courtesy.'

    With all due respect Taxpayer IV, you can voice your opinions. You can do so here online or write an op-ed piece or letter to the editor. I'm sure the editorialists will publish what you say as long as it does include profanity or libellous content.

    Just don't forget to sign your name.

  • Bob
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Taxpayer IV..If this deal will NEVER fly why are some councilors waffling or close-mouthed about their intentions. Go back to O'Keefe's comment earlier in the week; this is not a done deal...yet .

  • Percy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    I totally agree with Andrew...more anti development columns from The Telegram....I wonder what the Herder's would think...the founders of The People's Paper....

    They should be non biased in their opinions.

    Yes..we are, absolutely, living in a free demoracy, however, their is a fine line..

    We need development in this city, and, in particular downtown, and I support fully the planned Fortis, and former Woolworth developments.
    We must progress, and NOT regress, like a fringe group would like us to do.

    May I suggest that the NAY sayers read the letter to the editor, by Mayor O'Keefe, in the weekend edition of The Telegram.
    I rest my case.

  • Keith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Pam,

    Your argument suffers from several flaws:

    a) The report you cite is dated 2001. Given all the changes in St. John's since, it would be more appropriate to cite something more recent. If nothing more recent exists, please inform us so. Otherwise, it seems like you are citing dated reports to suit your purposes.

    b) We are having this debate again because City Council either i) does not have a coherent plan for development in this city or ii) does not care to respect its own plan. Either way, you are not doing enough to implicate council in this fiasco. You put them at fault, but you do not make them the villain; our elected officials should not be letting this divisive debate happen again and again.

    c) You do not offer any solutions yourself. If this debate is to become constructive, instead of divisive, we all need to make clear how we would like to see development move forward in this city. Simply bauling at anyone who will listen that building downtown is wrong, wrong, wrong will not help create strategies for building office space elsewhere. Most of us agree that the current Fortis proposal is wrong for this city; now we need to decide on the right one because, as Wade Locke will tell you, we need one now.

  • Taxpayer lV
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Pam b'y we are having this debate again because we can. We don't live in Iran where if you speak up somebody hauls you out of your house and hangs you. We are allowed to question the inane outdated rules of the past, and to ...gasp...even change some.
    Fortis has put forth a proposal, that's all, and just about everybody knows that this thing will NEVER fly, ever. Not in this town. Fortis owns the property in question and it makes good business sense to put the development there.
    People keep talking about streetscapes and view planes, are you guys serious. When walking down either side of Water you cannot see the water over the buildings that are there, (the run down slum like buildings that are there I mean). So just whose views are we talking about here. Not to mention that in the artist's concept the new building is set back far from water street, and would not be imposing at all.
    Anyway this is all moot, the development will stagnate, then die the death that most projects downtown suffer. Eventually Fortis will either move uptown, or out of the province, and the building there will start to look like the rest of the downtown, full of grafitii, and crumbleing. The vocal minority will be happy, and the rest of us will try to figure out how we are going to afford the next Doc and Shannie tax increase.
    It must be nice though, Pam to have this soapbox to put YOUR opinions foreward, maybe some of us would be allowed the same courtesy.

  • Andrew
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    More anti-development columns from The Telegram, that's a surprise. No wonder this city is going nowhere.

  • Paul
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    I agree completely with not allowing and basically not even wasting time debating this proposal. Set a precedent that these things aren't up for debate, back room deals, favoritism. And TaxIV, how can you seriously consider, and be considered either bit serious, in suggesting that somehow a 15 story cube will not be imposing!!! Smarten up.

  • Pam
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Keith, the city's recommendations about downtown development from the 2001 report I cited and similar recommendations from a subsequent 2005 plan were incorporated into the city's municipal plan in 2005, so the information I referenced is not terribly old. Both are available on the city's website. Besides, if they're still in effect, those are the rules, no matter what year they were written.

    I certainly didn't cite a report solely to bolster my argument. You will note I pointed out that the city's development plan actually discusses the notion of developments higher than 4 storeys in the area now in question, though it stipulates that If development higher than four storeys is considered in this block, then it is recommended that the building facades and retail space on Water Street be retained, and public views preserved.

    Believe me, I wish the report did not include that proviso. I included it in my column because I believe in taking a fair and balanced approach.

    In fairness to me, I believe I did point out that the city has a nasty habit of not respecting its own development rules, which is why I wrote that there is no need to be having this debate again.

    As for proposing alternate developments, that would be putting the cart before the horse. This one must be quashed or go back to the drawing board before alternative development becomes an option I am interested in considering. Right now, the debate I am interested in is about whether this particular proposal should even be considered. If anyone else has great ideas about an alternative design for that site, I hope Fortis is willing to listen.

  • I never thought...
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Goodtimes blog exclusive reaction to the new Fortis development in downtown St John's --

    http://urlgray.ca/goodtimes

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjKVjPGSER0

  • Chris
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    'It must be nice though, Pam to have this soapbox to put YOUR opinions foreward, maybe some of us would be allowed the same courtesy.'

    With all due respect Taxpayer IV, you can voice your opinions. You can do so here online or write an op-ed piece or letter to the editor. I'm sure the editorialists will publish what you say as long as it does include profanity or libellous content.

    Just don't forget to sign your name.

  • Bob
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Taxpayer IV..If this deal will NEVER fly why are some councilors waffling or close-mouthed about their intentions. Go back to O'Keefe's comment earlier in the week; this is not a done deal...yet .

  • Percy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    I totally agree with Andrew...more anti development columns from The Telegram....I wonder what the Herder's would think...the founders of The People's Paper....

    They should be non biased in their opinions.

    Yes..we are, absolutely, living in a free demoracy, however, their is a fine line..

    We need development in this city, and, in particular downtown, and I support fully the planned Fortis, and former Woolworth developments.
    We must progress, and NOT regress, like a fringe group would like us to do.

    May I suggest that the NAY sayers read the letter to the editor, by Mayor O'Keefe, in the weekend edition of The Telegram.
    I rest my case.

  • Keith
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Pam,

    Your argument suffers from several flaws:

    a) The report you cite is dated 2001. Given all the changes in St. John's since, it would be more appropriate to cite something more recent. If nothing more recent exists, please inform us so. Otherwise, it seems like you are citing dated reports to suit your purposes.

    b) We are having this debate again because City Council either i) does not have a coherent plan for development in this city or ii) does not care to respect its own plan. Either way, you are not doing enough to implicate council in this fiasco. You put them at fault, but you do not make them the villain; our elected officials should not be letting this divisive debate happen again and again.

    c) You do not offer any solutions yourself. If this debate is to become constructive, instead of divisive, we all need to make clear how we would like to see development move forward in this city. Simply bauling at anyone who will listen that building downtown is wrong, wrong, wrong will not help create strategies for building office space elsewhere. Most of us agree that the current Fortis proposal is wrong for this city; now we need to decide on the right one because, as Wade Locke will tell you, we need one now.

  • Taxpayer lV
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    Pam b'y we are having this debate again because we can. We don't live in Iran where if you speak up somebody hauls you out of your house and hangs you. We are allowed to question the inane outdated rules of the past, and to ...gasp...even change some.
    Fortis has put forth a proposal, that's all, and just about everybody knows that this thing will NEVER fly, ever. Not in this town. Fortis owns the property in question and it makes good business sense to put the development there.
    People keep talking about streetscapes and view planes, are you guys serious. When walking down either side of Water you cannot see the water over the buildings that are there, (the run down slum like buildings that are there I mean). So just whose views are we talking about here. Not to mention that in the artist's concept the new building is set back far from water street, and would not be imposing at all.
    Anyway this is all moot, the development will stagnate, then die the death that most projects downtown suffer. Eventually Fortis will either move uptown, or out of the province, and the building there will start to look like the rest of the downtown, full of grafitii, and crumbleing. The vocal minority will be happy, and the rest of us will try to figure out how we are going to afford the next Doc and Shannie tax increase.
    It must be nice though, Pam to have this soapbox to put YOUR opinions foreward, maybe some of us would be allowed the same courtesy.

  • Andrew
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    More anti-development columns from The Telegram, that's a surprise. No wonder this city is going nowhere.

  • Paul
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    I agree completely with not allowing and basically not even wasting time debating this proposal. Set a precedent that these things aren't up for debate, back room deals, favoritism. And TaxIV, how can you seriously consider, and be considered either bit serious, in suggesting that somehow a 15 story cube will not be imposing!!! Smarten up.

  • Pam
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Keith, the city's recommendations about downtown development from the 2001 report I cited and similar recommendations from a subsequent 2005 plan were incorporated into the city's municipal plan in 2005, so the information I referenced is not terribly old. Both are available on the city's website. Besides, if they're still in effect, those are the rules, no matter what year they were written.

    I certainly didn't cite a report solely to bolster my argument. You will note I pointed out that the city's development plan actually discusses the notion of developments higher than 4 storeys in the area now in question, though it stipulates that If development higher than four storeys is considered in this block, then it is recommended that the building facades and retail space on Water Street be retained, and public views preserved.

    Believe me, I wish the report did not include that proviso. I included it in my column because I believe in taking a fair and balanced approach.

    In fairness to me, I believe I did point out that the city has a nasty habit of not respecting its own development rules, which is why I wrote that there is no need to be having this debate again.

    As for proposing alternate developments, that would be putting the cart before the horse. This one must be quashed or go back to the drawing board before alternative development becomes an option I am interested in considering. Right now, the debate I am interested in is about whether this particular proposal should even be considered. If anyone else has great ideas about an alternative design for that site, I hope Fortis is willing to listen.