The mayor of St. John's says a bylaw on nuisance buildings — which includes lighting — does not apply to a resident who is shining bright security lights at neighbouring properties in the Outer Battery area of the city.
Danny Breen called a news conference Thursday to address what he said was "a narrative in the media and on social media that the council has an easy fix for this based on our current bylaws."
He referenced Section 377 of the City of St. John's Act, which gives the city power to order the alteration or even destruction of a building that is a public nuisance and poses a health risk to residents of the city.
"Section 377 of the act was never intended to deal with a private nuisance between neighbours," Breen said.
Neighbours have been complaining for over a year about one resident — Colin Way — who installed security lighting that illuminates the entire neighbourhood.
It's evolved into a legal battle, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary laying mischief charges over allegations he's shining the lights onto neighbouring properties. Despite the charges, the lights are still on nightly, outraging other residents on the small street.
Breen was asked numerous times to clarify how council decided the lights were not a public nuisance or a health risk. He repeated several times that the decision that the bylaw does not apply was based on advice from the city's legal department and discussions among councillors
"So you're saying in this case the light is not a nuisance?" he was asked by a reporter.
"Nope," he replied.
"And it's not causing harm?" the reporter asked in followup.
"We're saying right now under our bylaws it doesn't fit into Section 377 of the act."
Response from city 'typical,' says Battery resident
Outer Battery resident Christina Smith says the fight to turn off the lights has been taxing on her and her neighbours, saying the lights have caused sleeping problems and anxiety for people living in the area.
She said she wasn't surprised by Breen's response but wishes the city would elaborate.
"I think it's typical of the response we've been getting from the city on all of our issues in the Outer Battery, in that they say nothing can be done, and they won't tell us why," Smith said Thursday.
"We've asked the city why they can't use Article 377, 'cause they told us they can't, and the closest we've gotten to the answer is that it might not be enforceable.… It would help us to be patient if we actually had an answer."
Smith called the lights a city wide issue, noting she and the city have received complaints that the lights can be seen from residents on Prescott Street, Pennywell Road and other areas around St. John's.
Breen said the city had no interest in pursuing a specific nuisance lighting bylaw, despite the fact Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary has been openly asking council to discuss that exact scenario.
Earlier this week, she told council she plans to bring forward a motion at their next meeting to ask the province to amend the City of St. John's Act to allow for a nuisance lighting bylaw.
Smith applauded the plan and said she hopes other councillors will endorse it.
"We need laws to do this. That's what a city is for. A city is to make laws that protect the citizens and prevent neighbourhood disputes," she said. "The sooner that the city gets more control over these bylaws, the better."
Breen said it's the position of council that they will not do that.
"With regards to the deputy mayor's motion, you should ask the deputy mayor her intent on it," Breen said.
At one point, the mayor was asked if the city is considering any other options to address the situation.
"Nope," he replied. "Right now we believe that this issue is not one that can be addressed under our bylaws."
Breen said the city has tried mediation with the residents but they haven't been able to reach an agreement to turn off the lights and settle their disputes — which also involve parking and signage issues.
"I think they should continue to work together to solve this situation," Breen said. "It's a neighbourhood. It's a beautiful neighbourhood, a historic area with a lot of people who are heavily invested in the area, and I think they should work together to find a solution to the issues."