By Mark Squibb | Vol. 7 No. 4 (February 28 2019)
Mount Pearl council has voted unanimously to approve two amendments which will pave the way for the controversial Kenmount Hill Comprehensive Development Scheme.
The plan will see the area rezoned as a mixed density residential area, allowing for a mix of high density housing areas, commercial business, and conservation spaces for nearby wetlands.
The scheme has come under fire from some residents on the hill since it was first proposed in April 2018, and the City has held several public consultations since then.
"You're going to vote tonight, and I expect you're going to vote 'Yes'... I don't expect to change your mind," said Bonnie O'Rourke, a vocal opponent of the scheme, prior to Mayor Dave Aker calling the vote last week.
O' Rourke was given the privilege of citizen communication, in which a citizen can address a specific issue at council. For 10 minutes she laid out her concerns- until her time expired and was cut off by Mayor Aker.
O'Rourke raised a number of concerns that she - and other residents, including about 20 who filled the galley on the night of the vote - have with the proposal.
"I'm not against development, and there are elements of the scheme that are appealing, but I firmly believe that at its core the scheme is flawed," she said.
O'Rourke argued that a consultation by Tract Consulting identified numerous environmental risks; they include risk of permanent deforestation; soil erosion; and bedrock structural damage.
She said Tract did not provide a full assessment or evaluation of the risks, or measures to prevent or mitigate them, and pressed the councillors on how certain they were that they could promise residents there would be no risk of flooding or other negative environmental impacts.
"When you vote yes, you vote for no environmental impact assessment and risk mitigation plan," she told council.
So how certain is the City?
"We're pretty confident, based on the review," Mayor Aker said after the meeting, pointing out that professional engineers will design and engineer the development with flooding mitigation measures in mind.
"The planned amendments establishes the scheme at a very high level; it doesn't get down to the nitty gritty, or exactly where every sidewalk or every manhole cover is going to go," Aker said.
When asked about the lack of an environmental assessment, Aker explained the Tract report contained many components of what one would expect to see in an environmental assessment, and that a full-fledged environmental assessment is not required.
"Simply, it is not required and we think Tract dealt with all the environmental issues in their report."
O'Rourke also noted that the proposal was based on a land use model for high density populations with efficient transportation and said the lack of efficient transportation is a fundamental flaw.
She pointed out that Tract recommended an integrated transportation plan as being 'critical to the scheme' and wondered if council had properly assessed the increased traffic the scheme will create.
Aker said based on the report from Tract and a Traffic Impact Study by Harbourside Transportation Consultants, he felt council had an adequate anticipation of the traffic increase, and felt ready to handle the challenge.
Implementation of the scheme will result in the creation of a roundabout on Mount Carson and Wyatt Boulevard.
"The City in no way wants to create congestion, and we've asked the traffic consultant to do their modeling and their sampling, and we're confident, based on their track record and their expertise that they've done a fine job in their recommendations to the City."
"Of course, the overall impact won't be seen for years to come,” Aker said. “We're not going to see 1,000 (homes) all of a sudden land in that area. It will get built up quite slowly, I expect, based on today's current economy."
O' Rourke said despite the many public meetings, residents still feel as if their concerns had fallen on deaf ears.
"’Suck it up residents.’ That's essentially what we're hearing," she said.