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Nordic Spa Proposal for Blackhead Road in St. John’s Leads to a Raucous Public Meeting


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Blackhead area residents express concerns about fire, water, and disruption to the neighbourhood via potential drunk or thieving spa patrons

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A fiery public meeting that descended into personal attacks at some points hasn’t deterred a businesswoman who is hoping to open a Nordic spa on Blackhead Road in St. John’s.

Rebecca Bezanson, who is hoping to build her business in the rural area just 15 minutes away from downtown St. John’s, told SaltWire she believes the area is still the best fit.

“I spent a lot of time looking for a location for this business that would work, and this is still the best location,” Bezanson said.

“It’s not just a regular spa, and it’s not just something you can park anywhere. I can understand their concerns, but from a business standpoint, and I think a city standpoint, it’s something more than just residents would be able to benefit from.”

“This is still the best location.”
— Rebecca Bezanson

The proposal

Bezanson is proposing to build a Nordic spa in the area, which would include areas for yoga, saunas, three domes where people could stay overnight, and, of course, hot pools and cold plunges.

The area on Blackhead Road, where the Iceavik Nordic Spa and Village is proposed to be built, leads to the Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site.

It’s currently zoned rural residential, and the public hearing was to determine whether rural tourism could be added as a discretionary use in a rural zone.

If council does approve adding it to the listed uses, the spa would still need to go through the development application process before any approval was given.

The issues

About 35 people attended the public meeting at St. John’s City Hall on Thursday, June 8, many of whom identified themselves as people who live near the property on Blackhead Road.

About 15 of them spoke at the meeting, with some getting up to the mic multiple times.

The facilitator of the meeting, Marie Ryan, had to remind people numerous times to stay respectful, not descend to personal attacks, and to step aside to let others speak.

The most common concerns were around impacts to the water table, increased risk of fires and disruption to the neighbourhood.

Ron Fitzgerald, who lives across the street from the development, said his well has run dry twice, and he’s worried about water pressure if the business drills multiple wells.

He also brought up outdoor fires as a potential concern, saying the closest fire hydrant is about seven kilometres from the property.

“My daughter came home on the bus last week and she said, ‘I overheard some older kids on the bus saying that if they put this spa across the street from our house and there was a fire, we wouldn’t be able to leave our house to get away to safety,’” Fitzgerald said. “To me, my daughter shouldn’t have to be worrying about things like that.”

Fitzgerald also brought up hunting that goes on in the area, and was one of a number of people who mentioned it.

However, St. John’s city bylaws make it “unlawful for any person to shoot, discharge, fire, aim, draw, notch or otherwise make use of a weapon in the City of St. John’s,” or to discharge a firearm within 1,000 metres of a dwelling within the boundaries of the city.

A myriad of other issues were brought up by the residents, including drunk people knocking on their doors late at night, increased theft in the area due to the spa, and increased insurance rates for nearby homeowners.

Unanswered questions

Beverly Starr, who spoke multiple times, told SaltWire she still had a lot of questions about the proposal and didn’t feel all of the concerns had been answered.

“I don’t feel I know much more now than before the meeting,” she said. “They didn’t have the answers to many of my questions.”

Ward 5 Coun. Carl Ridgeley, who represents the area, was also at the meeting. He told SaltWire that while he thinks the Nordic spa is a great idea, he doesn’t believe the location on Blackhead Road is going to work.

“I think it would bring in a lot of people, create tourism dollars, but knowing how opposed people in the neighbourhood are, and hearing more of it at that meeting, I can’t support something the residents don’t want,” he said.

“It’s a great idea, just not at this location.”

Still hopeful

Bezanson understands the concerns residents have, including fires and water availability, and said those will be dealt with through the development process if council decides to move forward with adding tourism as a use in the rural residential zone.

“I think once it’s there and their concerns and issues have all been resolved, I hope that just as passionately upset as they are, they will be passionately proud to have it there,” she said.

She wasn’t surprised to hear the issues people had, she said, since she had heard them last year when she knocked on the neighbours’ doors and spoke with them about her proposal.

Blackhead Road residents previously successfully opposed a park and campground that was proposed at a location nearby about 10 years ago. Many of the same concerns and issues were raised at that time.

A report will now be prepared on the results of the public engagement process and presented to council at a future date.

Source: Saltwire

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