St. John’s Council approves Aquarena grant

Daniel MacEachern
Published on July 16, 2014

The city of St. John’s will pony up again for the Aquarena, with a few councillors renewing their objections.

City council voted Tuesday at its regular meeting to approve a recommendation by the city’s finance committee to provide its annual $100,000 grant to the aquatic facility, which is owned by Memorial University. The grant began life as a three-year agreement for an annual $150,000 to MUN in the late ‘90s after the city turned the Aquarena over to the university for $1, but has become contentious as the grant is renewed each year, bringing the city’s total investment to $2.7 million and counting.

Coun. Jonathan Galgay on Tuesday reiterated his objections from last week’s finance committee meeting, noting the city’s recent loss of tax revenue as former city-owned property, such as the Battery Hotel, has been taken over by the tax-exempt university.

“So I find it extremely difficult to turn around and give $100,000 back to the Aquarena, when in fact we’ve been publicly criticizing the government for not paying taxes,” he said. “I would rather take that $100,000, reinvest it into our own in-house programs.”

Couns. Art Puddister and Tom Hann — who ultimately suggested the city plan an “exit strategy” to withdraw the funding — also expressed concerns about the funding, but other councillors took turns defending the grant as support for a facility widely used by the public for more service than the city provides on its own.

Coun. Bernard Davis said he initially had reservations about the grant, but has come around in favour, noting the city’s strong relationship with the university.

“The university didn’t bring those issues on in this case. The provincial government are the ones not paying the taxation on those buildings,” he said. “It just happens that the university happens to be utilizing one of those facilities.”

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe was also in favour of continuing the grant.

“I think it’s money well-spent, and the numbers of adults and seniors and children who avail of the excellent programs, not only the aquatic programs, but the other programs offered by that recreational facility to people who live in our city, could not be handled by ourselves, aside from the partnership with the Aquarena,” said the mayor.

“So I think it is money well-invested in our people to partner with the university, to continue that operation. Could they continue without us? Sure they could. Should they? No, I don’t think so. We’ve always prided ourselves in paying our share.”

The grant was approved, with Galgay and Puddister voting no.


St. John’s committees overstepping bounds, says city councillor

St. John’s will undertake a comprehensive review of committee mandates, after a councillor suggested the city’s environmental advisory committee is overstepping its bounds.

Coun. Tom Hann took exception at city council’s regular meeting Tuesday to two recommendations from the committee, one that recommended companies involved in the new Galway development meet with the committee to discuss their plans, and another that recommended the council be regularly consulted about the design of the new Rennies River stormwater management plan.

Hann said the environmental committee is just that, advisory, and has no authority to add another step to the city’s development process.

“I don’t think advisory committees should add another step to the application and development process here at city hall, as we’ve been a year or so trying to clean that process up and make it a lot simpler for people who want to do business with city hall,” said Hann. “The fact that this committee or any other committee feels they can call in anyone who’s doing business with city hall, such as the Galway project. ... I don’t feel that it is within the purview of any advisory committee.”

The city’s standing committees should be the ones meeting with developers, said Hann, adding that advisory committees can get information from city staff.

Coun. Dave Lane — chairman of the environmental advisory committee —  said the committee has not been consulted enough on issues such as the Rennies River plan, and Coun. Sandy Hickman defended the expertise of the membership of the city’s committees, but council voted for a review of all committee mandates and terms of reference.


City wants land-use assessment for Karwood Estates

City council voted to require Karwood Estates to prepare a land-use assessment report for a proposed apartment building and row-house project on Blackmarsh Avenue.

Karwood has applied to rezone property at 369 Blackmarsh from residential medium density and open space zones to apartment medium density to accommodate two apartment buildings — one with 32 units, the other with 60 — and 10 row houses. Once staff has reviewed the report, a public review will be held.