Municipal politics -
City hall will soon be asking you what you want St. John's of the future to look like.
But your suggestions will then be shelved until the province first finishes a regional plan.
Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff has raised her concern about the city waiting too long before making a plan. She says she'd like to start working on a plan now - specifically for the downtown, which is under pressure from developers - but she's part of a minority on council.
"The reason that I wanted to do this ages ago is because I don't think what happens in our downtown bears any relation to the regional plan," she says. "We're under such development pressure right now that we are making decisions that we really should wait until we have a better sense of direction. And I think you should prioritize the areas that you wanted to focus on first as the areas that need the most attention - and our downtown is certainly (one)."
The decision on holding off on a city plan has become a bone of contention at City Hall, and is frequently brought up in council meetings when development applications are discussed.
A bare minority of council have been suggesting the city go ahead with developing a new plan - or at least a downtown plan - that would help determine where and what development is appropriate.
Mayor Dennis O'Keefe insists that going ahead with a plan - either for the downtown or the city as a whole - without the guidance of a regional plan could cause irrevocable damage to the city.
"it's important to have the big picture completed so that then when we review our own municipal plan it will be in the context of the relationship we have with the regional plan," O'Keefe says. "To do it in reverse wouldn't be advisable, I think, because you could be putting in motion a series of decisions that might end up being contrary to the regional plan."
Further, he says it's not good planning to balkanize the city and look at one part over another.
"No, we're not doing (it). We have a city plan and our city plan is still in tact. ... We will review in 2011 and it's not right to do mini-plans for different sections of the city."
Don't wait for us
The regional plan, which is scheduled to be completed by March 2011, would include decisions about development beyond the 90-metre contour, transportation considerations, parks and farmland.
However, the province doesn't seem to have a problem with muncipalities going ahead with their own plans.
A spokeswoman for the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs says there are no rules or regulations preventing the city of St. John's from completing its municipal plan.
In fact, she says, the province is encouraging most municipalities to carry on with their own plans.
She says there have been a couple of delays in the regional plan process, including province-wide municipal elections, that might yet mean the plan won't be finished on time.
Further, the website designed to advertise and update the public about the progress still says there will be "visioning sessions" in the fall of 2009. Other notices on the site say that sessions for October have been cancelled.
Several of the 15 communities in the region have already started work on their municipal plans, including Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, C.B.S., Torbay and Holyrood.
C.B.S. Mayor Woodrow French says his town council decided to go ahead with the municipal plan because theirs was so outdated.
"It came about and basically we have to go ahead and do our municipal plan regardless of the regional plan," he says, explaining that the public meetings process is complete and all the information has been sent off to consultants to compile a plan for the town.
C.B.S. should have some form of its municipal plan done by the fall, French says.
Meanwhile, Duff is suggesting to St. John's council that they and city staff at least start looking at how municipal plans elsewhere are done. That's something O'Keefe and most other councillors are agreeable to.
Duff wants to see a comprehensive public consultation process and the inclusion of what residents want to see in their city.
"That does require some creative approaches, not just simply announcing that there's a meeting and telling them to come down, but actually inviting different stakeholders to sit around the same table and actually think about where we want to be in 10 years' time."
Duff agrees the current plan is fine, and that there may not be many changes to it at the end of the day. But, she says, the process still has to happen.
"I think the general philosophy of it is good, but it's constantly being battered and criticized and changed without having a long-term picture of where we're going to end up. We're creating precedents without having the blueprint," Duff says.
The Northeast Avalon Regional plan will encompass these 15 communities:
- St. John's
- Mount Pearl
- Conception Bay South (C.B.S.)
- Portugal Cove-St. Philip's
- Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove
- Pouch Cove
- Witless Bay
- Bay Bulls
- Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove
- Butterpot-Witless Bay Line area