Mount Pearl council has approved the hiring of a commissioner to hold another hearing on amendments to its City Plan to accommodate the Kenmount Hill Comprehensive Development Scheme, but not without an ear to the growing opposition from some people already living on the hill.
"This is a framework for the future growth of this area," said councillor Lucy Stoyles earlier this month in introducing the motion to hire the commissioner and amend the City’s municipal plan.
With the zoning deemed Mixed Development, it will allow for various housing styles with links to recreation spaces and accommodation for commercial uses west of Mount Carson Avenue, she explained.
"This is private land, private developers have come in to us (to develop it)," Stoyles said, noting up to a few years ago the land could not be developed because of regulations against construction of properties above the 190-metre height of land.
That rule was changed by the previous PC administration and the City of St. John's just prior to the development of Galway, which is also above the 190-metre contour, sparking a small rush towards development in similarly situated areas.
"When I first got elected to council 20 years ago, it was never seen that this land would be developed," Stoyles admitted. "We never dreamed that we would be here today talking about this land. So, in a sense, it's really good news for the City that we have a lot of land and a lot of growth to continue here within our city."
Stoyles said the City has followed all the public briefing requirements for the development plan and held public hearings and even an extra open house. Among the issues raised by people, she added, were concerns about traffic, water and sewer infrastructure, zoning changes, property values and the enjoyment of open spaces for recreation.
"We heard everybody's concerns," said Stoyles.
On August 22, Stoyles said, the plan was sent to the Department of Municipal Affairs for an environmental review. That came back okay in September. The next step, she said, is to hold a public hearing.
"Again, the people in that area can come out and have their say again to an independent commissioner and be heard," Stoyles said. "At the end of the day, this land is going to be developed because the City can’t afford to buy land and say we're not going to do anything with it. It's not our land."
"We're the regulator," said Mayor Dave Aker.
Something is going to be built on that land, Stoyles said, arguing it is the responsibility of council to regulate the type of development that does take place to protect the best interests of the city. "And we're going to try and do that to the best of our ability," said Stoyles.
Commissioner George Trainor will hold the public hearing on October 25 at 7 p.m. at the Pearlgate Track & Field Complex.
"There are two main things we're doing here," said Aker. "We're amending our Mount Pearl Municipal Plan, which is the overarching document form the provincial government - you could call it our constitution. We're also amending our development regulations, which gives council the authority to approve the development of land according to the standards we have set."
Before proceeding to a vote, Aker asked if there was anyone opposed to those changes.
"First of all, I just want to say I am not opposed to development in the area," responded councillor Isabelle Fry. "This has been a learning process. One of the things that stands out to me is the extreme difference between what's there and what's being proposed... I also have a concern with the traffic in the area. I don't feel comfortable yet with the whole roundabout and how it's going to connect."
Fry said she would like to see development there. "There are a number of things here (of concern) for me," she added. "It's the passion of the residents and their strong belief in having questions answered. I don't know what can be done about it. I want to acknowledge it has been a difficult discussion for all of us."
Fry said another concern is the City's plan to limit the construction of single-family homes in favour of multi-unit structures, creating a heavier density.
"One of the challenges with this whole area that we're rezoning is that there are multiple property owners and each of them have different development objectives," said Mayor Aker. "The swath of land starts on the southern part of Kenmount Road and works its way all the way across Wyatt Boulevard all the way over to Blackmarsh Road. There are multiple developers... On the residential side, which is more on the Wyatt Boulevarde side - that's the area that we've received the most feedback and I think we're all the most sensitive to - I believe the developer would like to meet the needs of families and residents of Mount Pearl, as well as the region, with as many different types of housing as possible... That's what newer residents want. But in this particular situation, some of the older residents don't want change."
But Aker noted with each round of public consultation, council has amended its course regarding the proposed scheme. And as each development application proceeds in the future, it will have to come before council for review.
Fry said she just wanted to put her concerns on the record "and make it clear how tough this is on some of the residents."