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Survey says ... go denser

Happy City St. John’s hopes its survey on development density drives conversations between citizens, the city and developers.

Happy City chairman Josh Smee hosts a municipal election candidates forum in this file photo. Happy City has just finished a survey asking citizens how they feel about higher population density neighbourhoods. —Telegram file photo

The organization Thursday released the results of an online survey with more than 250 responses that Happy City says indicate there’s a market for denser development in the St. John’s area

“What the survey says is that people are willing to accept more density, probably, than we already have, but with conditions,” said Happy City chairman Josh Smee. “One of the things that we’re finding is that there are definitely concerned about density — people are concerned about what it’ll look like, how it’ll play out in their neighbourhood — but people do want to have access to services and amenities in their neighbourhood.”

People overwhelmingly want commercial spaces nearby, said Smee, including grocery stores and restaurants they can walk to — although just how close it is can be an issue.

“One thing that comes up is the ‘next door’ problem,” said Smee. “People will say, ‘Well, I’d love to have a grocery store or a café in my neighbourhood,’ but when you ask them, would you want to live right next door to it, the answer sometimes changes.”

Victoria Belbin, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, said she hopes the information in the study helps give developers and municipal governments the backing to overcome not-in-my-backyard opposition to developments. A big problem, said Belbin, is that residents often aren’t consulted early enough in the development process.

“Residents haven’t had a forum to have these discussions, and because they don’t have a forum to have these discussions or to be informed or to talk about what’s coming to their neighbourhood, when a proposal comes to their neighbourhood, that’s the first chance they’ve had to talk about it,” she said. “It’s too late. We need to have earlier discussions within our neighbourhoods about what residents want, and what they need, and what residents are looking for.”

Smee said Happy City has had good turnout to a series of forums this week discussing the survey’s results, and some of the forums’ discussions and responses will be included in the information provided to the city along with the survey results.

•More than 60 per cent of respondents want small-scale commercial or mixed-use development nearby.

•94 per cent of respondents want a grocery store in a 10-minute walk.

•88 per cent want to be within 10 minutes of parks and restaurants.

•71 per cent of respondents would consider living in a rowhouse, 55 per cent in an apartment or condominium.

• 77 per cent would consider living in a place between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet, 38 per cent would live in 500-1,000 square feet, and 11 per cent would live in 500 square feet or less.



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