Proposed project to develop green space under fire at St. John's public meeting

Residents had a chance to voice their concerns about a controversial development proposal for the historic Anglican Church Parish Hall on Queens Road in downtown St. John's Wednesday night.

About 100 people both opposed, and in support of, the plan to tear down a portion of the hall and develop green space to build a 40-apartment complex at 66-68 Queen's Rd. attended the meeting at St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church.

After a short presentation made by Parish Lane Development, the company behind the proposal, residents had their opportunity to state their case.

One of those residents was Jen Daniels, who became emotional when delivering her prepared remarks.

"If we want kids to care about nature, they must be given regular opportunities to play in wild spaces, and this is in our community," said Daniels, who lives on Garrison Hill.

This is a rare, rare wild green space downtown. - Jen Daniels

The forested area behind the Parish Hall means a lot to her and her family, Daniels said, adding it's a place where her kids are learning about nature.

A petition calling for the city to outright refuse the proposal — which includes a development plan for the forested area behind the building — has about 4,000 signatures.

Daniels said the green space is important to not just her family, but the whole neighbourhood, adding that residents take it upon themselves to clean up garbage that blows into the trees off Harvey Road.

"This is a rare, rare wild green space downtown.… It can offer so much potential to enrich the lives of other kids downtown who might not have cars, who might not be able to drive to green spaces — they could have forest play here," Daniels said.

"That's how valuable this space is."

Among the other issues people have with the proposal are the shadow it could cast on nearby homes — potentially blocking the view from The Rooms — the historic nature of the buildings that could be torn down, and the need for affordable housing versus high-end apartments.

Mike Moore/CBC

But while the majority of comments from citizens at Wednesday's meeting were against the developmental proposal, others, such as Derrick Bishop, said the current buildings are hazardous.

"If it's not taken down, I think it will fall down," said Bishop, who has been part of the parish for about 35 years.

"Someone mentioned about the many species of trees growing on the property. I think there are more species of fungi growing in the building itself."

Bishop said something needs to be done with the buildings, because the state of things inside is dangerous.

"Mushrooms, you name it, there's all kinds of mould and so on, and even moss growing in the building," he said. "It's a health hazard. If it doesn't fall down soon, I'll be surprised."

Mike Moore/CBC

The parish can no longer sustain the building, Bishop said, and the Anglican diocese has taken over ownership. The initial plan was to build its new proposed annex after selling the Parish Hall — another controversial building project in the same area of downtown.

Bishop said the green space isn't just used for enjoying nature; he said he has seen discarded condoms in the parking lot behind the building, and others in the area have had to pick up discarded needles around the property.

'We've looked at it an awful lot'

Richard Pardy, CEO of Parish Lane Development, was on hand to listen to residents' concerns with his project, and said it was a great opportunity to hear different opinions and suggestions.

But he still hopes city council will give his project full consideration.

While some residents offered other solutions to find a compromise with the proposal, Pardy said his company has already gone through all possibilities for a feasible project.

Mike Moore/CBC

"We've spent a year designing this, going through a whole bunch of iterations, different building configurations in the front and the back, the size of the building, the height of the building, so we've evaluated all of these and this is the one we think works best for the city and as a viable project," he said.

"So I won't say we won't consider other options, but we've looked at it an awful lot already."

As for the argument for more affordable housing downtown, Pardy said it's not a feasible proposal to make his company's project financially viable.

Pardy said his the proposal took a year to draw up, and is his company's idea for what could work best for the property, which, he added, had been on the market for two years before his company put forward its proposal.

"There are lots of opportunities for other people to acquire the building, and use their creativity and their resources to do what they think is best," he said.

"We've presented what we think is best."

The minutes of the meeting will be released in a few weeks, but St. John's council won't be voting on the proposal until January.

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