A proposed development for a four-storey, 106-room hotel built atop the Atlantic Place parking garage has moved a step closer to becoming a reality.
At Wednesday’s committee of the whole meeting, St. John’s city council voted in favour of considering a pair of amendments to allow the application for Sonco Group Inc.’s Park Hotel to proceed.
The first was a text amendment to the city’s municipal plan and development regulations to allow for the maximum building height in the Atlantic Place Parking Garage district, which has its own specific zoning known as the Atlantic Place Parking Garage zone (APPG), to increase from 11 storeys to 12.
The proposed height would put the roof of the hotel — which is billed as a green roof with various trees and shrubs — in line with the roof of Atlantic Place.
The other was an amendment to a pre-existing agreement between the city and Sonco that the number of public parking spaces available in the eight-storey parking garage on the corner of Harbour Drive and Clift’s-Baird’s Cove not be reduced below 670 spaces.
There are currently 720 spaces, which could accommodate the 50 parking spaces the developer says it will require for hotel guest use while still maintaining the required 670 public spots. However, Sonco notes in its submission to the city that redevelopment of the parking garage would result in 20 spots being eliminated.
As such, Sonco is seeking an amendment to the number of public parking spots required and suggests the garage could continue to accommodate both hotel guests and the public, since the monthly average of unused parking stalls in 2017 and 2018 ranged from 287 to 397.
Council, following a 30-minute debate on the subject, voted in favour of the recommendations, both of which had the support of city staff. It also requested, based on the desire from all supporting council members to have more information about the proposal, that the developer submit a complete land use assessment report (LUAR) and that staff send the matter to the Built Heritage Experts Panel (BHEP).
Both amendments would have to be referred to a regular council meeting for consideration.
Although the property is located in the downtown planning area, it is not located within the heritage area, meaning heritage policies on area standards and design do not apply.
Mayor Danny Breen, while admitting to not personally enjoying the design of the building, voted in favour of the amendments and said the matter presents an ideal opportunity to start a new conversation about the present and future of the downtown core.
“I think it's worthy of going through the process of getting the information on it, making sure we have all the details and putting it out to the public for public input,” Breen told reporters.
“It's a very important issue because as we all know our downtown is challenged and it may actually be a good impetus to us starting the conversation about what we do in the downtown and what we can do in the future.”
The mayor also spoke in favour of the developer’s plans to screen in the eight-storey parking garage.
“I think we could get universal agreement in the city that it's an ugly structure to have on our harbourfront,” the mayor said.
Council members who voted against the amendments included Deputy Mayor Sheila O’Leary, Coun. Maggie Burton, and Ward 2 Coun. Hope Jamieson. The latter’s greatest concern was the height increase.
“I've heard loud and clear, again and again, from residents that they really value the historic character of our downtown and that the downtown is really the crown jewel of our city,” Jamieson said. “For that reason, I can't entertain any proposal that would suggest an increase in building heights in the downtown given that we know there have been less ideal decisions made in the past.
“We can't commit to further increase in building heights, further walls of building that make it a more unfriendly streetscape.
“It's my preference that heights in the downtown remain at human scale, meaning lower, smaller and closer to the ground.”
Jamieson also made a case for the area’s heritage to be taken into consideration, as the property is surrounded on three sides by heritage areas and by the harbour on the fourth side.
“So, it's hard to say that it exists outside of a heritage context,” she said.
“For all intents and purposes, it exists in a heritage context and it is council's prerogative to consult the BHEP on buildings that are not within heritage areas, considering that we need to look holistically at development.”