The public gallery was full at Monday evening’s St. John’s council meeting, and it erupted in applause when councillors unanimously voted to reject a proposed personal care home at 296 Ruby Line.
While councillors noted the province’s population is aging and personal care homes are needed, this particular development involved rezoning an agricultural area to a commercial zone.
If approved, it would have resulted in a three-storey, 64-unit senior living development with a parking lot with about 185 spaces.
Area residents were opposed to the development for a variety of reasons, including loss of farmland, an increase in traffic, increased risk of flooding and a poor esthetic fit for the neighbourhood.
At the Aug. 20 council meeting, council deferred the decision in order to conduct a traffic study.
The city’s transportation division concluded the development would cause negligible change in traffic to the area.
However, the decision mostly came down to the idea of rezoning agricultural land for commercial use — something with which councillors Maggie Burton, Wally Collins, Sheilagh O’Leary, Ian Froude, Jamie Korab and Hope Jamieson all expressed concern.
Burton pointed out that agricultural land in the area has been consistently depleted since 1973. At that time, it had about 60,000 acres, but by 1993 it had 30,000 acres, she said.
Jamieson noted the province struggles with high obesity rates. She said holding on to farmland is a “health issue.”
Korab also spoke about food security in the province.
After the vote, concerned citizen Eddy Stcoeur said he was happy with the decision.
Stcoeur told The Telegram he buys his food from local producers as much as possible, and every time agricultural land is lost it means less food security in the province.
“This never should have made it to council,” he said.
“Agricultural land should never be allowed to be used and developed into a commercial zone, or into a medium- or high-density residential zone.”
Another person who applauded in the gallery was Bas Whelan.
He has lived in the area of the proposed development for about 40 years.
“We’ve got nothing against senior citizens’ homes, but to put one where that was going, where the agriculture is, was wrong, and obviously council agreed,” Whelan said with a smile.