When John Sheppard moved to Torbay Road in 1963, he always had the pick of the best Christmas trees from the area that is now Stavanger Drive.
With development exploding in the east end of the capital city, he jokes that it’s hard to find a tree there now, let alone the perfect one.
“I remember going down Stavanger Drive (way) to cut the Christmas trees. There was none of that there when I came here, only property and trees, a two-lane highway and cows across the street,” he said during a recent chat about the changes on Torbay Road.
Sheppard, who raised his family in a five-bedroom house across from the old Field dairy farm on the north end of the main thoroughfare — which is now the site of a 60-acre big box retail development — said progress is getting too close for comfort.
As he looks out his picture window at the new Harvey’s restaurant and the heavy equipment clearing land around it, he says he doesn’t mind the development so much, but getting through the traffic can be challenging at the best of times.
“Traffic is the worst thing of all,” he said shaking his head. “You can’t get out of here lunchtime and you can’t get out here in the evening. So I don’t go anywhere then. White Rose out to Stavanger is a terrible mess, and they should never have had Major’s Path coming out on Torbay Road.”
The City of St. John’s is working with developers on what is called the Torbay Road North commercial development, which includes projects fronting onto Torbay Road north of Stavanger Drive.
Talk of the development started back in 2007 when council rezoned the area to commercial. At the time, council also commissioned traffic impact and site-servicing studies.
“The traffic study shows a lot of different things that have to happen over time, but the key thing is once we reach 450,000 square feet of development, it triggers a need for us to go back and look at the traffic impact study to confirm that … what we had anticipated and our assumptions in the original report are correct, because there is some big money on the line here in terms of dollars to do this,” said Robin King, a transportation engineer with the city who wrote the traffic impact study.
“At the end of this summer, once all of this development is concluded here, we’ll be at 185,000 square feet … so we still have to go to 450,000 before it triggers the need for us to go back and look at this again,” he said during a recent interview.
Developers are responsible for constructing their own internal road networks, King said, while the city is responsible for Torbay Road and a small parcel of Hebron Way. In order to support the development, the city extended a watermain into the area at a cost of around $1 million, which will be recovered from developers as the area is built up.
Traffic lights are being installed at the intersection of Hebron Way, White Rose Drive and Torbay Road. As well, a roundabout has been built at the end of Hebron Way to accommodate the road network for further development at the end of Field Power Centre — the home of Harvey’s restaurant and the future home of Empire Theatres.
KMK Capital Inc. is the developer of the new power centre. Justin Ladha, the company’s vice-president, says he’s excited the work is progressing.
“Right now, we have all the main road network and services completed, so now what’s happening is the tenants — the people who have purchased the land — are doing site grading and, in some cases, pouring foundations,” he told The Telegram Tuesday.
Ladha said the site on Hebron Way, next to Harvey’s, will have three more restaurants and a mix of office and retail toward the back. Empire Theatres, which is expected to be open in early 2014, will be nearby.
“To say what the restaurants are is kind of premature, but I can say we are working on putting a Milestones Restaurant there, which is owned by Cara. They own Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and Montana’s,” he said.
He said traffic congestion is always a main consideration and the city has done a great job of putting traffic studies in place to ensure there’s no long-term congestion.
“When it comes to traffic, we defer to the experts in the world, and if they say the roadwork is fine that’s what we go by,” he said.
St. John’s Coun. Danny Breen, whose ward encompasses Torbay Road, said the roadwork was estimated to cost about $10 million in 2007, and depending on the outcome of the review, it could cost that and more.
“They could say everything is fine, we don’t have to do anything, but in my opinion, more than likely they will say we have to widen the road and it will probably cost more than $10 million to do it,” he said.
If the city has to widen the road to six lanes from the new intersection of Hebron Way and White Rose to the Outer Ring Road, it won’t be a nasty financial surprise because Breen said council set up a reserve fund for traffic-related improvements in 2007 “out of the property taxes and fees collected from those developments.”
There’s about $1.6 million in the pot.
“That’s being built up in case there’s land we have to acquire,” King said.
“Once we get to six lanes we’re not going to want to have access out through there, so a lot of these properties the city will have to buy,” he said.
However, Breen said the city won’t just walk in and take someone’s property.
That’s good news for one woman who has lived near the Stavanger Drive intersection for 20 years.
“I guess I’ll lose my lawn,”
she said, asking that she not be named.
Standing on her deck, across from the entrance to the big-box shops on Stavanger, she said her view of the trees has been replaced by Irving, McDonald’s and Best Buy.
“It is a convenience to have everything so close, but I wouldn’t want to lose my house because of it,” she said, as cars whizzed by her front yard.
Breen says expropriation is usually the city’s last resort and the development is not at the stage where the city is talking to property owners, but if it comes to that he’s hopeful deals can be reached.
Sheppard, who lives further north than where the six lanes would run, agrees the road could be wider, but he wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice land he has worked for more than 40 years.
“I’ve been putting this here all my life,” he said looking at the mature trees on his front lawn.
“I wouldn’t want to move now, but if they’re coming, they better have lots of money because they won’t be getting this for a song,” Sheppard said smiling.