Light House Project will leave neighbours in the dark, critics say

Development should go heritage — not highrise, says business owner

Josh Pennell
Published on October 23, 2013
Stephane Delisle’s business, Hempware, is in the immediate vicinity of the Light House Project on the east end of Duckworth Street. He wonders why the heritage rules are so malleable for large developers and so rigid for small business owners like himself.
— Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram

It was tough to find anybody who was thrilled Tuesday about the approval of the Light House Project in the area of 83 and 90 Duckworth St. in St. John’s, where the hotel and residential property will be built.

The project, the idea of Republic Properties Inc., was given approval during Monday’s city council meeting.

Brenda McClellan, who owns Red Ochre Gallery, has been voicing her concerns about the development for the two years it’s been on the table. She says her main concern is with the City of St. John’s.

“The guidelines say four storeys, and how can they just at random allow these rules to be broken?” she asks.

The development is actually going to be six storeys.

McClellan has the same concerns of many people: the design won’t suit the heritage area, and the tall building will cause shading and perhaps create a wind tunnel.


Breaking bylaws

The sting of watching another development be able to break so many of council’s bylaws is all the more infuriating considering Mc­Clellan applied to raise the roof on her building when she was doing renovations last year.

“I was not allowed to raise my roof one foot,” she says.

The fact that she’ll now sit in the shadow of a six-storey stone wall hotel begs a certain question.

“Why does one person get so much privilege when other citizens do not?” she asks.

Mere metres away, that sentiment is echoed by another area business owner.

Stephane Delisle owns Hempware, on the other side of Wood Street from Red Ochre Gallery.

“When we bought the building here, we couldn’t change the size of the window,” he says.

The same heritage restrictions that kept McClellan from rasing her roof kept Delisle from increasing his window size or even putting one in that opened differently than the one there during the time of purchase.

Delisle figures if you have lots of money, council will bow to you. Otherwise, you do the bowing to them. He points out that they’re tearing down an old fire station that is part of the heritage area, as well letting the developers break many heritage rules.

Delisle is in favour of development and knows a hotel in the area can mean more business.

“If there’s more tourists in town, it’s good for me,” he says.

He questions the look of the development in an artist’s drawing, though.

“It would be nice if they put something more downtown colourful.”

When he went to Ste-Pierre, Delisle says, he saw a concrete hospital that was the colour of a bunch of row houses.

“It looks great. And that’s a hospital.”

Residents, too, were feeling defeat at council’s approval of the development.

Roy Hoogstraten lives at 10 Wood St. He said his property is the only house in the area that survived the 1892 fire. The residential section of the development that will be built on the site of the old fire station can be built within 10 inches of his property.

“The council is straight as a boomerang,” he says.

The fire station property should have been available for anybody to bid on, he says. It’s been appraised specifically for Republic Properties Inc.

Hoogstraten says this would have been an ideal development for council to make an example out of — to show how the city can have developers follow heritage rules and bylaws.

Instead, he says, it shows just the opposite — that council members bend the rules when it suits them.

He also says the estimate that the project will take two years to complete once ground is broken is preposterous and drastically lower than how long it will actually take.

Two years of construction is enough for McClellan to wonder if her gallery can survive 24 months as a business in a construction zone.

Development should go heritage and not highrise, she says.