Too much of a good thing?

Some residents feeling left out as capital city booms

Dave Bartlett
Published on July 25, 2011
Frank Gal

Development in St. John’s is an issue that often polarizes members of city council and the public at large.

A few weeks ago, The Telegram did a story about the rate of growth in the city.

That generated a lot of comments on The Telegram’s website and to the newsroom from people with a myriad of concerns about developments near their homes or the rate of growth in general.

Courtney Young lives on Airport Road in the city’s east end.

When she bought her home she knew it was on the edge of a commercial zone, but at the time it was next to a wooded area.

Young said she received assurances from the city that a 14-foot treed buffer zone and fence would be left between her home and the office building going up next door.

She said the promises made were gradually broken.

“If you’re told, basically, there’s going to be a small forest left in between you and this building, you expect it to be somewhat what they agreed to,” said Young.

“Now, there are six trees in  between me and them.”

She said the large two-storey building is encased in glass.

“When I go out with my children in my backyard, I have this large office building peering down on me, which is very intimidating,” said Young.

The lack of trees means more snow on her property and a soggier spring. Young said she’s been told large evergreens will be planted in the buffer zone, but she said she’s skeptical.

“It seems that they make all these promises to shut me up, but nothing happens,” said Young.

Dick Atwill lives across town on Old Bay Bulls Road. His major issue is about the loss of farmland, green space and the effect development is having on the city’s waterways.

The river behind his house, a branch of the Waterford, was 30 feet wide and several feet deep 25 years ago.

“My kids used to catch fish right by the side of the house,” he said. “The stream used to be teeming with them. But there’s hardly a fish left there now.”

Since residential developments have occurred upstream, he said the river is now only about eight feet across and normally only ankle deep. Runoff from rain used to only have a gradual effect, as the ground absorbed much of the water before it reached the river.

However, now when there’s a heavy rainstorm and water from catch basins in those developments divert water directly into the river, there’s a danger of flooding.

Atwill said he also worries the farms in the area may be forced out by residential subdivisions if people start complaining about the smell of cows.

“One of the biggest problems is a lack of planning. This (development surge) came on us too quick and it’s just (a) money grab,” he said.

The city had put a review of its current municipal plan on hold while it waited for the province to finish its regional plan for the Northeast Avalon.

However, council recently re-scinded that decision, as there is still no word from the province on when the regional plan will be completed.

Ward 2 Coun. Frank Galgay is the chairman of the city’s planning committee. He told The Telegram recently the review is still in its infancy.

“The review of the St. John’s municipal plan and ... development regulations is long overdue,” admitted Galgay.

“We cannot wait for the regional plan. ... It could be years before it’s done.”

He said it’s essential to get the plan updated, amended and adjusted to deal with the significant growth in the city.

But Galgay is also well aware of the tension between residents and development. He said he believes there is a balance between progress and preservation.

“We must meet the needs of the 21st century. ... We have to be visionary. We have to be proactive and this city, despite ourselves, is going to expand in leaps and bounds,” he said.

Galgay said it’s council’s obligation to see that development is done properly and said councillors often walk a thin line.

“It’s not an easy task. It’s very difficult to balance both points of view,” he said.