Nfld. & Labrador

To stop St. John's sprawl, city offers to waive development fees — with a catch

Instead of looking out, look within, says Coun. Maggie Burton.

Developers will likely take advantage, but it won't happen overnight, home builders' association says

Maggie Burton is a councillor at large with the City of St. John's. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

Instead of looking out, look within, says St. John's councillor Maggie Burton.

She's talking about development, and a new incentive offered by the city in an attempt to boost targeted neighbourhoods and avoid costly urban sprawl.

The 2019 city budget includes waiving development fees for those who create a plan for several existing neighbourhoods in St. John's. 

From Macdonald Drive in the city's east end, to the west end of Water Street, the city sees potential in eight areas which may have been long forgotten by developers. 

"There are a lot of empty lots around the area so it would be great to have a mix of residential, commercial, and institutional uses in the metro," said Burton, while gazing across to the old Grace General Hospital on LeMarchant Road. 

The City of St. John's has identified eight areas deemed in need of "intensification," over the next 10 years. (City of St. John's)

Burton said developers are building closer and closer to the city limits, forcing St. John's to spend more and more on services like snow clearing, water, sewer and transportation. 

"They've come to expect a community centre or Metro Bus and Go Bus service," Burton said. "Even just everything like roads, water, sewer ... everything has a price tag.

Burton said it's in the best interests of taxpayers to get the most out of existing infrastructure; adding a grocery store to LeMarchant Road, or a new housing development in the place of an undeveloped lot, for example.

Galway, the Hebron Way area, and Kenmount Terrace would be examples of developments on the outer limits of the city, the latter of which is soon getting a new community centre, with about $386,000 budgeted for the building in 2019.

"We need to price accordingly for how many new services the city will end up having to pay for once a new development is built," she said.

Will developers bite?

The plan for so-called intensification areas is over a 10-year period, and according to both Burton and the Canadian Home Builders' Association, the amount developers will save depends on whether the project is a renovation or an entirely new building. 

Victoria Belbin, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of the Canadian Home Builders' Association, considers waiving development fees a positive move, but thinks the city could go further.

"We would like to see more of the development fees waived," Belbin said.

"Given the current economy and the current condition of the industry of residential construction, we were relatively pleased with this move, but there are just a number of places on the map that the city is looking to fix or enhance."

When we say 'urban sprawl' there's a negative connotation to the term, but there's a very natural progression to development.- Victoria Belbin

She expects developers will take advantage, but warns new construction in an intensification area takes a long time, and residents won't see changes any time soon.

Already-established areas bring their own challenges, Belbin said, like environmental conditions and engineering challenges.

Then there are neighbourhoods where people don't want to see change. 

"Another piece that may not be talked about yet could be the NIMBY [not in my backyard] issue," Belbin said.

Victoria Belbin is the CEO of the Canadian Home Builders' Association in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"This is where residents may be resistant of changes in their neighborhood."

As for urban sprawl, Belbin said there are consequences for trying to stop development.

"When we say 'urban sprawl' there's a negative connotation to the term, but there's a very natural progression to development," she said.

"There is a desire and a need for mixed development and density for [serviced areas] but they can't do it in the absence of good community planning and allowing for communities to develop and to broaden based on the people who want to live there."

Burton did not put a price on how much urban sprawl is costing the city, but said she is looking into it. 


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit. Email:


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