A move to make Petrolia a more walk-able town has hit a speed bump.
Monday, Petrolia’s Planner, Rob Nesbitt, introduced his suggestions to make the town an better place for pedestrians. They were based on the $500,000 Community Health Study completed in 2018 by the town and Bluewater Health. The concept was to provide health services in a designated area, surrounded by senior housing and supported by good infrastructure to connect pedestrians to the key areas of the town.
Nesbitt suggests designated bike lanes where possible and bike racks at town properties to encourage cycling.
And he says development should be encouraged in a grid pattern to reduce the amount of long narrow roads and make better use of the available land.
But the idea which drew the most comments from the public at Monday’s public meeting was sidewalks. All new subdivisions, says Nesbitt, should have sidewalks – something that is not required now. The health study suggested they be two-meters wide and on both sides of the street.
Housing developer Bob Leaper says mandating sidewalks on both sides of the street would add about $3,500 to the cost of a new home and would add an extra $903,000 to the cost of developing 129 lots in his subdivision – Countryview Estates.
Leaper told councillors home buyers don’t want sidewalks because it reduces the amount of room available to park cars and “many people still use the street even if they are there.
“Sidewalks are essential in core areas…in remote developments, where people are picked up by a (school) bus, they’re not necessary,” says Leaper.
Developer Louis Bratanek – who works with Leaper on the Countryview Estates subdivision – agreed.
“Most purchasers don’t want a sidewalk; it’s a liability and they have to shovel it….Keeping housing affordable is difficult – this adds one more thing.”
Both Bratanek and Leaper add because the existing subdivision doesn’t have sidewalks, the sidewalks in the new subdivisions “would lead to nowhere.”
And, later in the meeting, most of council seemed to understand the developers concerns. Some agreed the sidewalks weren’t necessary.
Councillor Joel Field isn’t sure sidewalks make sense “far off by the wastewater treatment plant” but says they’re necessary in the core area where seniors’ living and health care will be emphasized in the future “We need to look at the sidewalks we have.”
Field also suggested some sort of fee per lot for sidewalk construction when the land is being developed.
Councillor Wade Deighton says adding sidewalks costs more, so developers will pass the cost onto consumers. “Will they really want to develop here?…We have to use a common sense approach.”
“I have always promoted development in this town,” says Mayor Brad Loosley. “I want developers to feel if they want a good deal we can provide good, quick performance….We don’t have the resources or the tax base to do all these things, so it is a difficult thing for us to do.”
Councillor Ross O’Hara agreed. “We have to remember we are Petrolia; is it really necessary? Does it take away parking? Does it cost more for developers?”
But there were some people at the public meeting who were interested in seeing more sidewalks.
Steve Cardiff is a Petrolia resident who does a lot of walking and cycling. He urged council to take a “rational approach” saying sidewalks on both sides of the street are not necessary.
While Cardiff appreciates it would cost money to install the sidewalks, he says they will make money in the future. “Walk-able streets increase property values…every where there is good walk-ability, property values go up.”
And he says “people like to walk and given the chance, they will.”
Cardiff adds dedicated bike lanes may not be need, however there should be some cycling routes and paths to take people off Petrolia Line.
Resident Kevin Shaw also spoke in favour of sidewalks in new subdivisions. He lives on First Avenue and his children are not bused to school.
“They have to walk and there is no sidewalk,” he said noting the town should be looking at putting sidewalks particularly in subdivisions surrounding schools. “We want kids to be walking and they shouldn’t be on the road…Kids should be able to walk and feel safe walking.”
And some residents were concerned the sidewalks in the core area aren’t being maintained. Bonnie Lumley says her mother used to walk from Greenfield St. down Dufferin to the arena. She had two falls and now the family doesn’t want her out of the sidewalks. “You’re too focused on the newly-enhanced tax bracket housing and not taking care of the old Petrolia,” she told councillors.
Council has asked the planner to review his suggestions, keeping council’s comments in mind and make recommendations in the next few months.