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St. John's city council approves controversial waterfront Parkhotel

An architectural rendering of the proposed Parkhotel; a parking garage and hotel with some ground-level retail/tourism space. Computer screenshot
An architectural rendering of the proposed Parkhotel; a parking garage and hotel with some ground-level retail/tourism space. Computer screenshot

Council divided in 6-5 vote

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

In a vote that split council nearly down the middle, there was one thing they all agreed on: the A.P. Parking Garage is ugly.

What they disagreed on is how to fix that.

In one camp were those who felt the proposed Parkhotel development was an improvement. It would be a mixed-use space with retail on the ground level, a parking garage taking up the bulk of the building, then topped with a hotel.

Property owner Sonco Group plans to build a four-storey hotel above the current eight-storey parking garage. The applicant proposes the hotel have 108 rooms, a restaurant with a lounge, a gym and a sauna.

Coun. Sandy Hickman called it “a vast improvement” over the brown brick eight-storey parking garage that currently sits at 1 Clift’s-Baird’s Cove.

Five others agreed with him, pushing the development ahead in a narrow 6-5 vote.

The project’s land use assessment report includes this photo of the current building on the site, the A.P. Parking Garage. - Screenshot
The project’s land use assessment report includes this photo of the current building on the site, the A.P. Parking Garage. - Screenshot

Exactly what council voted on Monday evening were amendments to the municipal plan and development regulations that would allow for the 12-storey building in an area where 11 storeys is the current permitted maximum.

Voting in favour of city staff’s recommendations were councillors Sandy Hickman, Debbie Hanlon, Deanne Stapleton, Jamie Korab and Wally Collins, and Mayor Danny Breen.

The process still has to go through a public hearing, a sale of air rights and a discretionary vote on the hotel, but Coun. Maggie Burton, development lead, said she believes council’s future votes on next steps with the proposal won’t change.

Voting against amendments to make way for the Parkhotel were Burton and councillors Dave Lane, Hope Jamieson and Ian Froude, and Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary.

O’Leary said she didn’t feel the proposal was the right solution for the “extremely sensitive” harbourfront area. She said she would like to see the developer redesign the proposal, and that council should work on making the harbourfront a more “livable” space.

St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said Atlantic Place has always been controversial, so he wasn’t surprised to see that this proposal for the parking garage generated controversy, too. He said the development is an opportunity to improve the area – to take a building that he called “an eyesore in the city” and “turn it into something better.” - JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM
St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said Atlantic Place has always been controversial, so he wasn’t surprised to see that this proposal for the parking garage generated controversy, too. He said the development is an opportunity to improve the area – to take a building that he called “an eyesore in the city” and “turn it into something better.” - JUANITA MERCER/THE TELEGRAM

Another issue adding to the contention is that while the property is not located in a heritage area, it is surrounded by heritage zones.

Council referred the application to the built heritage experts panel, who made some suggestions that council also approved on Monday. Those included recommendations for the applicant to choose an alternative colour palette, and that the design of the harbour-facing façade be determined before development approval. The applicant is willing to work with the arts community for that design, according to city documents.

At a public meeting and in written submissions to council, St. John’s residents expressed a mix of opinions about the proposal. Concerns dealt mostly with the height of the building, obstruction of views and a feeling that the design is too modern for the area.

Breen said Atlantic Place has always been controversial, so he wasn’t surprised to see this proposal generate controversy, too.

Still, he says this proposal is an opportunity to improve the area — to take a building that he called “an eyesore in the city” and “turn it into something better.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Hickman.

“It takes care of a problem that we’ve had for many years in that downtown — that is a very ugly building, I think everyone agrees with that one — and it’s something that I think moves forward the downtown. It’s progressive, and I think that kind of thinking has to be supported. Our downtown has had some losses. We need some gains, some wins downtown, and this is one of them.”

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


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