Sizing up the situation, Woolwich councillors opted to side with Elmira residents opposed to plans to install a sidewalk in front of their Mill Street homes. They voted to remove small stretches of additional sidewalk from the mix when the road is fully reconstructed starting next month at a cost of $1.7 million.The issue came as no surprise to council: every time a new sidewalk is proposed for an established neighbourhood, residents fret about the loss of mature trees, maintenance issues, reduced driveway space and related parking problems.
In this case, four homes on the north side of Mill Street, between Centre and Duke streets, are already fairly close to the road. Installing a sidewalk would eliminate parking space, already in short supply, and bring pedestrians within feet of some of the homes, residents told councillors meeting Tuesday night.Mill Street resident Dana Norris called on township to drop plans for a sidewalk, citing concerns about loss of property value and privacy, with the walkway being “uncomfortably close” to the homes. She also noted that the path of the proposed sidewalk would essentially cut off the end of residents’ driveways, removing parking spaces while creating a problem with snow removal by making the lots still smaller.“It would be disruptive to current living situations,” she said of the impact on residents.That sentiment was echoed by neighbour Jacques Bredenkamp, who noted the cramped quarters would pose a safety hazard to pedestrians and drivers alike given the poor sightlines.For its part, township staff argued for the sidewalk, pointing to a policy calling for sidewalks on both sides of roadways. The goal is to encourage walking and to increase accessibility for those with disabilities, said director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley, noting that installing sidewalks during road reconstruction projects is the most cost-effective time to carry out the work.Acknowledging residents’ concerns, engineering project supervisor Jared Puppe said benefits of the sidewalk outweigh the “potential inconveniences.”With property values, for instance, some people want sidewalks and see that as a plus when buying a home. On the parking front, residents are currently “using the public right of way for private parking,” in effect enjoying a benefit that shouldn’t override the need for a sidewalk.Councillors, however, saw the opportunity to save some money by axing the sidewalk segment on the north side between Centre and Duke streets, and a small stretch on the other side of Duke street, which staff estimated would reduce the cost by at least $60,000.Mayor Todd Cowan also pointed out the savings from not having to clear snow off the sidewalks – perhaps another $1,000 per year – and not having to maintain the concrete walkways. As well, dropping the sidewalks eliminates the “headache” of figuring out what to do with the snow in such close quarters.“I think we should save the money and listen to the wishes of the residents,” said Cowan, calling the decision “a no-brainer.”Coun. Allan Poffenroth noted the neighbourhood has done well for years without the sidewalk. He, too, voted in favour of dropping the walkway, with Coun. Julie-Anne Herteis the only one opposed.The council motion did, however, clear the way for the bulk of the project, awarding a $1.7-million contract to Moorefield Excavating to carry out the work. Construction will see a full replacement of underground services, a new roadbed and pavement, the installation of curbs and the replacement of existing sidewalks to bring Mill Street closer to current road standards.Dropping plans for a sidewalk on the north side of Mill Street, while disappointing, won’t have any significant impact on the project, Kennaley said in a later interview.“It’s not a big deal to change plans,” he said, adding there are other changes to be made prior to finalizing the design.The township is also negotiating with the owners of two corner lots to acquire small pieces of land due to sightline concerns, with the goal of boosting safety at the intersections at Duke and Centre streets. Those talks will continue even with the sidewalk plans off the table now, he explained.