Mixed reviews for sidewalk fund paid by developers

a concrete sidewalk with grass on both sides

Heather Wright/The Independent

A suggestion Petrolia developers could provide cash for sidewalks to be built where “they would do the most good” instead of their own subdivisions is being met with mixed reviews.

The idea came from Bob Leaper, who is developing Countryview Estates during a public meeting on the town’s proposed new sidewalk policy. There has been a push from residents for more sidewalks while developers and council has resisted the idea, saying it adds costs to neighbours. But a wellness plan created with Bluewater Health encouraged Petrolia to become a more walkable community. So council asked planning officials to look at the sidewalk policy.

Lambton County Planner, Rob Nesbitt, says the proposed policy would have sidewalks on both sides of arterial roads, like Petrolia Line, collector roads such as Dufferin and Tank, and local roads.

Sidewalks along arterial and collector streets would, under the proposal, be a minimum width of 1.8 metres and along local streets a minimum width of 1.5 metres.
But one part of the policy drew concern at a public meeting in April. It would have allowed the town’s director of public works to modify or not apply the policies related to sidewalks if it “is not feasible or practical…(to) allow staff to make appropriate and timely decisions … rather than delaying such decisions until a future Council meeting,” the report reads.

Petrolia resident Liz Welsh, raised concern about the override, saying it is “not accessible government and it is not transparent.”

At the public meeting May 25, Nesbitt changed the policy suggesting only the chief administrative officer and the director of public works should be allowed to make minor changes, in rare cases, but that some form of sidewalk would have to be built.

While that may have eased some concerns about the policy, developers once again raised concerns about putting sidewalks in new developments where they weren’t required in the past. Leaper says seven phases of the subdivision have been completed without sidewalks. If they’re added to the next 129 lot phase, they won’t connect to anything.

Instead, Leaper proposed developers put the cost of a 1.5 metre sidewalk, for one side of a road, into a fund to allow the town to put sidewalks where they are most needed.

“Extend them where it would to the most good,” he suggested adding in the future the sidewalks may extend into the subdivisions outside of the downtown.

“We have no problem paying our fair share as long as all developers are treated equally,” says Leaper.

Councillor Joel Field has talked about a sidewalk fund in the past too, raising the same concerns that sidewalks in new subdivisions don’t lead anywhere.

The planner disagreed saying in the future sidewalks in subdivisions would be easier for the town to connect new sidewalks to and adding using the street is an “unsafe situation.”

The developers and Field also raised the idea that many people don’t want sidewalks in their neighbourhood.

It was an argument one citizen, Norm Sutherland, flatly rejected. “I don’t accept any part of the argument made by the developers.”

He pointed to a recreation master plan study done for the town in October 2020 which said one of the highest priorities in the community was for more sidewalks.

“The survey they did said 85 per cent of people continue to want sidewalks,” he says, urging council to bite the bullet and make sidewalks mandatory in subdivisions.

Resident Kevin Shaw agreed saying “at some point, we have to start building sidewalks and then start filling in the gaps.”

Council will review the policy, likely at the next council meeting in June.