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Conestogo resident worries about impact of Sawmill Road widening plan

Proposed widening of Sawmill Road in Conestogo has Gunar Kurmis concerned many trees will be lost, making it more of an industrial feel rather than village charm. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Proposed widening of Sawmill Road in Conestogo has Gunar Kurmis concerned many trees will be lost, making it more of an industrial feel rather than village charm. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Proposed widening of Sawmill Road in Conestogo has Gunar Kurmis concerned many trees will be lost, making it more of an industrial feel rather than village charm. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Gunar Kurmis has spent 25 years at his home on Sawmill Road in Conestogo. It took 15 of those years to get his flowering crab apples trees to where they are now. So when he was told there’s a good chance he’s going to be saying goodbye to them, along with any sort of buffer between his home and the road, in exchange for wider lanes, he was less than pleased.

Construction on Sawmill Road and Northfield Drive is slated for 2017 to widen the roads for bike lanes and more room for horse-drawn buggies. The project is also supposed to improve the pavement, change the intersection, and upgrade the sidewalks. It comes to a grand total of $5.2 million. Bloomingdale is also scheduled for road improvements in 2016.

“I might as well stand on my front porch and blow their noses when the bicycles go by because that’s how close it’s going to be. It’s not going to be a pretty sight and you’re going to lose the aesthetics of having a village,” Kurmis said from his home on Wednesday, where just down the road, tree limbs were being chopped off haphazardly to install new hydro lines.

Kurmis is now questioning why the region is paying no mind to the trees planted up and down Sawmill, when they designated an arborist and special attention be paid to the trees on Valley Drive in Cambridge, where a sidewalk is planned to be built.

“They talked about being environmentally friendly for the trees. They had an arborist who’s going to be on site when this sidewalk goes in. They have a person that’s going to be there, they’ll hand dig around trees if they have to. I thought if they can do that for a sidewalk, they can certainly do that for a little piece of road,” Kurmis said.

Kurmis expressed his concerns about the widening of Sawmill at regional council last year. He spoke to Jim Ellerman who’s in charge of the project and the verdict wasn’t good for the trees.

“He said you’re going to be losing all these trees here. I said ‘do we want this to be an industrial parking lot or something? I asked him what are you going to do if these trees are lost, replace them? He said ‘yeah if there’s enough allowance on the road. If not can we plant them anywhere else on your property?’ I said, ‘no I love trees and I plant them all over.’ He said ‘it’s said and done and that’s that.’”

He notes some of his neighbors have said they’re against the idea and the region has said they’re going ahead with it regardless. Some previous delegations expressed concern over encouraging cyclists to use the route through Conestogo, as there’s heavy truck traffic. Others encouraged the widened lanes, with the hopes of further enforcement of speed limits.

“If they’re going to widen this road and they’re going to make it four or five feet wider for a bike lane, that’s going to come up almost to the sidewalk and I’m not going to have anything for a boulevard,” Kurmis said. “My concern is they just said yeah you’re going to lose the trees. No indication they’re going to take care of anything. I thought well that’s fine and dandy if they do this, but we worked hard to maintain a nice property.”

He’d like to see the cyclist clubs who’ll be using the bike lanes chip in for them since the region is spending more than $5 million on this project.

“If you want to snowmobile you have to buy a snowmobile license. These people, I think if there’s a bicycle club they should be paying a yearly fee for the privilege of the region spending millions of dollars for bicycle lanes,” Kurmis said.

Kurmis’ home is about a foot away from the sidewalk. Aside from losing his trees, he’s also wondering how snow plowing will work when the road is that much closer to his house.

“The big thing is it’s great in the summertime. But in the winter time when that road is wider the region is not going to plow the road just where the road is,” Kurmis said. “They’re going to go right over to the bike lane. Where does that snow go? Right now that snow’s going on my front porch some days. I have to continuously do the sidewalk. Where’s the snow going to go when the road’s wider?”

He said he called two Woolwich councillors to come take a look at the trees and land he’ll be losing, but they haven’t called him back yet to set up a time. Kurmis notes public outcry about proposed gravel pits ended favourably for concerned residents, and it’s worth a shot if it means potentially keeping that village charm he loves about Conestogo.

“It’s a bad scenario. The one councillor, he told me it’s a said and done deal. There’s nothing you can do about it. I said there’s always something you can do,” Kurmis said.

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