Woolwich & Wellesley Township's Local Community Newspaper | Elmira, Ontario, Canada
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Council makes the right call on Mill Street

Clear evidence that we’ve indeed had a very long winter, as Santa’s not the only gift-giver who gets to spend some holiday time with everyone’s favourite snowman.

What is it about sidewalks that gets people so incensed? Ever since the “great First Street rebellion” of the late 1990s, no issue has consistently galvanized residents like plans to install a strip of concrete along township property.

In a scene reminiscent of one that played out three years ago with the reconstruction of Nightingale Crescent, residents of Elmira’s Mill Street called on councillors to scrap plans to build a sidewalk on both sides of the road, favouring the status quo where the only walkway is on the south side.

They were well prepared, armed with facts and made convincing arguments to support their case. In the end, councillors made the right decision in axing the idea.

This week’s decision shows the importance of applying common sense to each decision, rather than relying on “that’s the way we do things” to push ahead with something.

In this case, engineering staff recommended the sidewalk because the new standard is to install sidewalks on both sides of the street, along with curbs and gutters. This is applied to all new subdivisions, which is a debatable requirement but certainly not overly contentious as the concrete is laid before anyone moves onto the street.

It’s a different scenario in retrofitting existing neighbourhoods, however, where the sidewalks usually prove disruptive. As the residents noted Tuesday night, there would be a significant impact on several homes. Even a quick look at the narrow roadway where the older homes are already very close to the street reveals the problems that would be created, not the least of which is the loss of privacy.

While it would be easy to dismiss concerns about parking – the sidewalks would go on the municipal right of way, taking away driveway space where residents currently park – because the land belongs to the municipality, the inconvenience and resultant snow-clearing issues would certainly outweigh what staff deemed benefits of the project.

Yes, the property belongs to the municipality, but there’s just something galling about having to deal with a sidewalk bisecting your driveway after years of no such inconvenience.

Councillors did the cost-benefit analysis, and saw an additional sidewalk made no sense. The current walkway is lightly used. A second one on the north side of the street would be even less so, say the residents. So, the township would spend an additional $60,000 (and likely much more), and then it would be stuck with maintenance, repairs and eventual replacement costs, not to mention yet another stretch of sidewalk to be cleared of snow, an issue also guaranteed to elicit howls from the public.

To its credit, council did the math, cutting out of the equation staff’s contention that a sidewalk should be built in keeping with township policy. A recourse to policy – itself an artificial construct of the township’s own device – is a bureaucratic staple. As we’ve noted on several occasions, municipalities, including Woolwich, are notorious for devising policies as make-work projects, often imposing “solutions” on problems that didn’t exist until otherwise unneeded staff members started mucking about.

The resultant backlash comes as no surprise except to those who floated the policy in the first place.

Equally unsurprising, the vitriol is aimed at elected officials, who bear the ultimate responsibility for going along with the process unquestioningly.

In this case, councillors saw the danger signs and remembered that policies are guidelines, not etched in stone – they can and should be overlooked, and even discarded, when it makes more sense to do so.

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