St. John's mayor defends Glencrest rezoning process

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe says the Glencrest development is being handled by the book, with the final staff recommendation the only one that matters.

Dennis O'Keefe says final staff recommendation is only one that matters

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe responds to a CBC News story on Glencrest development 15:11

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe says the Glencrest development is being handled by the book, with the final staff recommendation the only one that matters.

O’Keefe was reacting to a CBC News story about leaked documents from the city’s planning department.

The documents show that staff had significant concerns about the Glencrest development in memos as recent as March 6.

But those objections were dropped within 48 hours, in the final memo.  

"These are all drafts," O’Keefe said. "If the planning department is going to come up to me, or come up to council, every time they get a bit of information on which they make a change, then we're going to have to put an escalator from the third floor up to the fourth floor."

O’Keefe says new "technical" information would have come in between the March 6 draft memo that called the rezoning of Glencrest premature and the March 8 final memo that recommended approval.

The mayor, when pressed, declined to provide details on exactly what new information arrived.

But he says such changes are routine.

"There were many drafts," O’Keefe said. "Things change as new information comes forward. And at the end of the day, we get a final document with a final recommendation that actually comes to council, and we make the decision on the basis of the final document."

This week’s council vote applies to roughly 10 per cent of the nearly 2,200 acres that comprise Glencrest. The land is owned by former premier Danny Williams.

Approach applies to all developments, mayor says

The big issue for city staff in the leaked draft memos was the lack of a signed contract for development costs like water and sewer connections.

St. John's city councillors voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve four rezoning requests for the Glencrest development. (CBC)

But the mayor says that information is no longer required at this stage.

A review of the city's application process has been underway for some time.

As a result, the mayor says the rezoning of land will now come first — and details from the developer will follow before the development is granted final approval.

"That's when all of these details will be worked out to the satisfaction of the city," O’Keefe said.

"And if they're not worked out, guess what? There won't be any approval."

March 6 memo said rezoning ‘premature’

On Wednesday, CBC News reported that St. John’s planning staff advised this month against rezoning parcels of land for the massive Glencrest development near Southlands, calling it "premature" to do so.

But within 48 hours, those recommendations were changed in the final version of the memo, to "warrant consideration of approval."

CBC News obtained leaked draft memos, dated March 6, written by city staffers for consideration by the planning committee — and later, council as a whole.

Council voted to approve the rezonings on Tuesday, following the committee’s recommendation.

That recommendation was based on the final memo sent by staff.