City staff had recommend refusal of controversial proposed design
Just two hours before city council was set to vote on the controversial proposed Cathedral annex, the City of St. John's posted a notice on its social media that the Anglican Diocese is withdrawing its application for approval of a new building design.
The vote on the application was removed from the council agenda.
St. John’s city council will make a long-awaited decision Monday evening.
Since a revised design for a multi-purpose annex extension to the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist came before council on July 8, there’s been much public debate on the matter.
At that time, council deferred the decision to seek more information about the size and scale of the addition, but soon after the public also expressed concerns about whether building excavations would disturb unmarked graves.
At the regular meeting Monday evening, council will vote to either approve or reject the proposed design.
City staff are recommending council refuse the design due to concerns expressed at the public information session on July 25.
“Should the applicants wish to proceed with a revised design on the same footprint as proposed, it is recommended that the city allow excavation of the foundation to determine if human remains are located under the building site,” reads city staff’s direction note to council.
“Should human remains be found, it is recommended that the siting of the proposed annex be reconsidered. Should no remains be found, this will confirm that the cemetery (CEM) Zone line can be interpreted to exclude the footprint of the building.”
City staff recommend churchyard investigations
Staff also recommends the city explore ways to further investigate the churchyard and determine the location of human remains on the remainder of the site.
“There are questions to be answered regarding this site, such as where are the human remains in the remainder of the site, and who is buried here,” reads the direction note.
“Methods to be used to determine the location could include ground-penetrating radar or other methods deemed appropriate.
“Further research of this site will inform public education and proper acknowledgement of the graveyard and who is buried here. They should not be lost to memory.”
The direction note also says opportunities to inform the public about the cultural significance of the site should be explored, such as interpretive panels.
Moreover, because this particular decision spurred plenty of discussion around public input on the design of buildings in heritage areas, staff recommend public consultation should be a standard part of the development review process for similar applications in the future.
Mayor Danny Breen told The Telegram council will make its decision based on the information provided by city staff.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of public input into this, it’s raised a lot of attention in the city, and certainly the staff recommendation is one that will hold a lot of weight as we consider this on Monday night.
“The Anglican Cathedral and the whole ecclesiastical precinct is vitally important to the city, not only because of its historical significance but because when you look at our heritage and our heritage properties that we have, stone properties are very important to us, and this is one of the ones that we’ve really got to be careful with.”
In a public letter to council, the Anglican Bishop, Rev. Geoff Peddle, said the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador does not see another alternative to the proposed annex.
One suggestion that hasn’t been widely discussed was proposed at the public information session by Shane O’Dea, an advocate for the preservation of built heritage in the province and member of the Order of Canada for that work, in addition to his excellence in oration and teaching at Memorial University.
He suggests the parish hall be built in the space just north of Cathedral across Gower Street where there are already two clergy houses, parking space, and green space.
When it was brought up at the public meeting, Paul Antle – chair of the committee tasked with finding a space for the Anglican Cathedral to do its ministry – said the location was considered but there were issues with the properties, and the road between that land and the Cathedral belongs to the city and is an emergency thoroughfare so it cannot be obstructed.
“What he’s saying is the Bishop can’t make it across to the Cathedral with as much ease as he will be able to if he does it through the south transept, which is where the extension would go from. That’s certainly true,” said O’Dea.
“The Bishop is going to have to be fit to be able to cross the street, and I think most of the Bishops these days are comparatively fit.”
O’Dea said his suggestion would clear all of the concerns about design compatibility and interference with potential cemeteries.
Whether or not the proponents will need to consider an alternative location, or at least a revised design, depends on Monday evening’s council vote.
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