MHA says St. John's council 'antics' slow the solution of Battery lights dispute

Battery resident Christina Smith says the neighbourhood is the 'poster child' for light complaints all over St. John's. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Battery resident Christina Smith says the neighbourhood is the 'poster child' for light complaints all over St. John's. (Ted Dillon/CBC - image credit)
Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is willing to amend provincial legislation to help the City of St. John's deal with a dispute over a security lighting system in the historic Outer Battery neighbourhood, says a city MHA.

MHA John Abbott, a cabinet minister who represents the district of St. John's East-Quidi Vidi, said Monday the province is willing to amend the City of St. John's Act to allow the city to usher in a bylaw against "nuisance lighting."

"The residents of the Outer Battery came to me out of their frustration with the response from city hall," Abbott said. He said asked Municipal and Provincial Affairs Minister Krista Lynn Howell if the City of St. John's Act would let city council deal with the problem.

"The result of that conversation was an amendment to the act, to allow them to create a bylaw, was probably the best route to go and we at the province are prepared to do that."

Abbott said Mayor Danny Breen turned down the idea of an amendment when it was first brought up.

Earlier Monday, protesters gathered at city hall in St. John's, demanding the city deal with the simmering feud in the Outer Battery neighbourhood, where homeowner Colin Way has installed bright floodlights that have prompted complaints from neighbours.

Some long-term residents of the neighbourhood have said their quality of life is being disrupted in the quiet, picturesque area, which dots one side of the harbour with colourful houses clinging to the cliff.

But both the mayor and deputy mayor have said there isn't much the city can do about it. Abbott said he's "amazed" by the city's "antics" in response to the situation so far.

On Monday, Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary brought forward a motion during the city's weekly meeting for the city to ask the provincial government to amend the City of St. John's Act to allow the city to enact a nuisance lighting bylaw.

The motion lost 8-1.

The situation has been bubbling since November but residents have been complaining about Way for over a year.

More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the city to introduce a "nuisance lighting bylaw."

"The Battery has become the poster child for light nuisance in St. John's, but it's not about the Battery. All over St. John's people are complaining about lights," said resident Christina Smith at the rally. She said they gave the mayor and councillors a list of areas with similar complaints to those of of Battery residents, as well as the results of an access-to-information request about light problems in St. John's.

She said the city has responded with "no infraction, no action required."

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

"People are still suffering all over St. John's because the city has no way to do anything about this," said Smith.

"Good bylaws and enforcement by the city would have prevented the situation that's happening in our neighbourhood and is happening in other neighbourhoods too."

Breen and council members agreed the City of St. John's Act needs to change, but not just a single part of it.

"Thirty-two years ago we asked for a new act. We're a modern city, we have moderns problems," said Breen during Monday's council meeting.

"While the City of St. John's Act does a fantastic job of telling you where to park your horse or the most efficient way of how to herd sheep down Water Street, it does nothing for the problems residents come to us with these days.… So I think, instead of an amendment to one section of the city act that's not going to do what people think it's going to do, I think we should be focused on getting the city act completed."

Breen said he met last week with Howell, who told him the provincial government expects to finish the City of St. John's Act by fall of 2024.

Breen also told Smith there are other ways to approach the lighting issue in the Battery.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

In an email Monday, Breen told Smith, as part of the city's "ongoing research into ways to address this issue," there is a possible solution within the province's Environmental Protection Act.

Breen pointed out light is a form of "electromagnetic radiation" and the act states "a person shall not release or permit release of a substance into the environment in an amount that in the opinion of the minister causes or may cause an adverse effect."

Breen copied both Abbott and Environment Minister Bernard Davis on his email to Smith.

"We feel they may be able to act more quickly than we can to find a more immediate solution," Breen wrote.

"While we have not been able to take action under the current municipal legislation, we have not been inactive on this issue and we continue to work diligently on your behalf."

Meanwhile, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said officers are investigating allegations of property damage in the neighbourhood.

 

A video that circulated on social media over the weekend showed two men using a chainsaw and a circular saw cutting away pieces of decking from Pearcey's Twine Store — a historic fishing stage that was owned by the late Charlie Pearcey.

Residents say there is a property dispute between the owners and Way, who owns several properties in the neighbourhood.

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