Friday, February 24, 2012

A vision for The Narrows

The Narrows group — representing both sides of the entrance to St. John's harbour, as well as key stakeholders — appeared before the City of St. John's' planning committee on Tuesday, Feb. 21st, to ask that the city undertake a planning area development scheme specific for the iconic area. As chair of the group, I gave the following presentation:

Thank you to the planning committee and the members of St. John`s City Council for seeing us.

I`m the chair of a newly formed steering committee of a stakeholders` group called, The Narrows: A Vision for the gateway to St. John`s.

Our goal is clear — to protect, enhance, and preserve The Narrows, the iconic entrance to St. John`s harbour.

We want to support the area`s living history.

To date, efforts have focussed on the two sides of The Narrows as separate entities, but the rich fishing heritage of the Battery, and the proud military history of Fort Amherst, are intertwined.

The stakeholders’ group brings both sides of The Narrows under a single umbrella.

What we`re requesting is for the planning committee to undertake a planning area development scheme specifically for The Narrows, and for The Narrows planning area development scheme to occur separate from the Municipal Plan.

Both sides of The Narrows may be separated by water, and are in separate municipal wards, but both sides, together, make up the iconic entrance to the harbour.

Both the Battery and Fort Amherst share a common past, and common challenges for the future.

This initiative is community led.

The Narrows stakeholders group is made up of a resident steering committee from both sides of the harbour, including the Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association, members of which are present here today, and the newly formed Fort Amherst Neighbourhood Association, members of which are also present today.

The stakeholders’ group includes representatives of St. John’s City Council; the MHAs for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi and St. John’s South; the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador; and Destination St. John’s.

The provincial department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation has asked to play a “supportive role.”

I have offered the services and resources of my office to The Narrows stakeholders’ group and am committed to doing everything in my power as Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl to ensure the area is protected and, ultimately, restored.

Both sides of The Narrows fall within my riding and I plan to make this project one of the major thrusts of my term in office.

The planning area development schemes in Georgestown will help to “manage development” to identify living history.

Georgestown is unique and deserves “extra” attention from the planning department.

But no area of the capital city or Newfoundland and Labrador is as unique, important, and iconic as The Narrows.

The City of St. John’s has done valuable work on both sides of The Narrows over the years that will assist the work required in this requested activity.

But both the Battery and Fort Amherst have been studied in isolation — rather than as one.

Efforts undertaken to date include the development of a Fort Amherst Master Plan; the 2004 Battery Development Guideline Study, which produced guidelines for height restrictions, protection of views, etc., in the Battery area; the 2010 Fort Amherst site development plan for military structures; the soon-to-be-released Jokinen Engineering Services study on fisheries-related structures in the Outer Battery, commissioned by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador; and of course, the Proposal for a Planning Area Development Scheme for The Narrows District of St. John’s, completed in August 2011 by Juanita Keel Ryan and Jerry Dick.

The latest study is the PHB report, released earlier this month, which made recommendations based on visual details for 14 buildings in the Outer Battery.

Many of these studies and subsequent reports have indicated the need to protect The Narrows.

The Narrows group recommends the city of St. John’s undertake the following for developing a Planning Area Development Scheme for The Narrows District:

• Identify the various values of The Narrows (i.e., as a tourism icon; heritage/aesthetic/scenic values; social/community values; development potential).

• Document character-defining elements of The Narrows district that extend beyond the physical (architectural, aesthetic) to include intangible values (community/social, heritage).

• Develop a common vision for The Narrows.

• Identify tools, measures and mechanisms required to preserve

character-defining elements and to foster a sense of community.

• Develop guidelines for the future development of the district that updates design guidelines; addresses management of traffic/circulation; and identifies the types of uses to be supported/encouraged and opportunities for adaptive re-use.

The Narrows faces a number of obvious challenges.

• Rapid decline in the traditional population base; influx over the last few decades of new residents; the deterioration of fishing stages and stores that no longer have practical use; and new city standards for upgrading fishing structures that were previously repaired by fishing families employing traditional construction techniques; and an increase in the number of developers.

It`s in all of our best interests to address the challenges associated with The Narrows.

The Narrows becomes more iconic with each passing year. Even the hit CBC television show, Republic of Doyle, has chosen a sweeping shot of The Narrows in their opening sequence to each show.

The Narrows is the gateway where the past, present and future meet.

In the PHB Group`s recent presentation it was obvious that there are a host of issues that have yet to be addressed for residents.

We see the Planning Area Development Scheme for The Narrows as being an opportunity for the City of St. John`s to give the deserved focus to the area.

The Municipal Plan procedure, as it stands, will not offer the Narrows the focus it needs.

It`s not enough.

Again, both sides of The Narrows are separated by water — they`re in different municipal wards — but the vision is one.

They face similar challengers and are under similar pressures.

Timing is an issue: we see the problems with The Narrows — some of which have been well publicized — as a crisis.

Fort Amherst is crumbling into the sea. Some of the military history there could be the oldest in the New World.

The wharfs and stages, the rich fishing heritage and culture that the Battery is known for, are also falling into the sea.

I repeat: Timing is an issue.

We have to take the first step to preserving and enhancing what we have and where we come from.

The importance of The Narrows to tourism is obvious and well- documented, and the residents agree.

The importance of The Narrows to our culture and history is just as obvious. Again, the residents agree, they`re taking the lead.

We`re not asking you for money; we may never ask for money.

We`re saying that The Narrows is a project that the residents of St. John`s, and indeed the entire province, can rally behind.

This project can capture the imagination of Newfoundland and Labrador and, indeed, the entire country.

If we do it right.

We need a focus – we need a vision. We`re asking for a planning area development scheme.

On behalf of the residents of the Battery and Fort Amherst, and the various stakeholders that make up our committee, thank you.

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