The cities of Mount Pearl and St. John’s both have plans to develop lands “above the 190 metre contour” elevation throughout the St. John’s urban region. Until recently, development of these areas was restricted because 190 metres was considered the upper height limit of engineering capability to provide adequate water and sewer servicing.
In 2012, this restriction was lifted following Commissioner Sharpe’s recommendations from the 2012 joint Public Hearing for the City of St. John’s and the province’s Department of Municipal Affairs on whether or not development could be permitted above this elevation, in particular, in the Southlands and Kenmount Hill areas, with Galway soon to follow.
Sharpe recommended yes — assuming there are no technology constraints and that water and sewer servicing is available — but conditional upon guarantee of zero net run-off of storm water to protect the Waterford River and Rennie’s Mill River floodplains flood risk, and a capital-cost neutral and cost-recovery policy to ensure all costs are borne by the developers to address municipal financial risks. Sharpe suggested height restrictions be maintained even if the area could be serviced: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
For Kenmount Hill, at 260 metres at its highest points, the new absolute upper limit is at 230 metres to enable 30 metres gravity feed from water towers on the hilltop for adequate water pressure. There are also numerous environmental risks from development on the slopes near hilltops to be addressed, including risk to the area wetlands, and of permanent deforestation and erosion of the shallow soils. And there are risks to humans, including reduced live-ability, and to property, from expected dramatic increases in winds, snow accumulation and rapid snow melt.
For St. John’s, the Kenmount development scheme and its related traffic studies appears thorough and reasonable. New development is primarily single-family low-density, and there is consideration for increased snow with snow lots identified.
In Mount Pearl, in stark contrast, council is poised to provide final approval of new zones that would permit all development in the Mount Pearl 100-hectare area to be high density commercial and residential, the highest density in all of the region, up to the highest possible elevation of 230 metres.
City contractor, Tract Consulting, recommended this plan but also identified numerous risks and required actions such as very careful development to reduce the risk of permanent deforestation, a public transportation strategy to enable its “Transit Oriented Development” urban densification approach similar to that being used in Ottawa, Calgary and other large cities, and traffic calming measures given the design of long straight roads prone to speeding.
The city and council, however, have not addressed these concerns.
They have refused to answer resident questions, and they have refused to present the findings of the Traffic Impact Study.
Further, the traffic study uses simulation models based on low density and less than half the number of residential units, and its plan for new collector roads and multiple roundabouts, including one on Mount Carson, does not address existing traffic issues let alone the new traffic safety consequences of the development.
Worse, the city and council intend to amend the rules to provide maximum flexibility to permit developers to erect all apartment buildings up to three stories, in the area east of Wyatt Blvd, and up to seven storeys to the west, and these can be double at the discretion of council.
Unlike St. John’s, there are no snow lots, and the city has not defined the wetland fringe. Council has “consulted” with area residents, like me, without providing information, and says “trust us.”
I don’t fault the developers for having a profit motivation, but I do fault council for its lack of transparency, its apparent lack of due diligence, and its certain lack of concern for existing residents. I understand why developers wish they were operating in Mount Pearl versus St. John’s.
But right about now, I wish the 1980s Powell Commission had granted the lands north of Topsail Road to St. John’s, not Mount Pearl. I urge all to please voice your concerns at the upcoming Kenmount Hill Public Hearing at 120 Old Placentia Road in Mount Pearl at 7 p.m. on Oct. 25.