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Wellesley approves trail plan, minus most contentious bits

A controversial trail plan for Wellesley Village will go ahead, but the most contentious section remains to be reworked in the face of strong opposition from residents.

Like the community itself, councillors meeting Tuesday night were also split, with a slight edge to those in support of an as-yet-finalized plan from the Wellesley Trails and Active Transportation Advisory Committee. Still to be tackled is a stretch of the trail system along Greenwood Hill Drive from Queens Bush Road to Ferris Drive that needs to be altered to address residents’ concerns.

Four residents spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting in council chambers ahead of council’s decision.

Hugh Cameron and Mary Stewart expressed their support of the trail, citing her paralytic polio as an infant that requires her to walk with crutches for short distances or a wheelchair for longer treks. When they moved to the township they were thrilled with how accessible the stores and services were in town.

“The shock is that there are so few sidewalks. This is a potential danger and very discouraging when my partner and I are out for a walk in the evening. This also impacts individuals, families and children, the elderly,” Stewart said.

She said she was pleased when she heard the township was considering building a trail system in the village. Her partner, Cameron, said he left the public meeting in May angry and hurt by the opposition. He said a lack of sidewalks and accessible trail systems sends a message that disabled people aren’t welcome.

“Please consider the special needs in the decision for this accessible trail,” Stewart said.

In a brief presentation later in the evening, township planner Geoff van der Baaren covered some of the plan’s details, such as the fact the trail will be 1.8 metres wide and have at least a two-metre buffer between the trail and the road. Every point of crossing at a road will be marked and signed. He says no trees are proposed to be cut on private property, which some residents said has already happened.

“All of the trails committee is supporting the recommendation, which is to proceed with the trail from Queens Bush Road south to Gerber Meadows Drive and the other part of the recommendation is to defer the trail between Queens Bush Road north to Ferris Drive,” van der Baaren said.

Terry Seip and Rick Cain were opposed, as were numerous residents who interjected throughout the meeting.

Cain lives on Welwood Avenue but isn’t directly affected by the trail. He said he wasn’t expecting a lot to come out of the meeting, other than a chance for citizens to have their voices heard again, with the hopes council might reconsider.

“I came out of the [May] meeting feeling that everybody was very pro trail systems in town, not just necessarily the proposed locations,” Cain said.

As a real estate agent he says he disagrees with the idea this won’t affect property values. As residents have noted before, many of them moved out of the cities in order to have more space, privacy and enjoy country life.

“People retreat to the backyards for privacy. If they want socialization they’ll go out onto their front porch,” Cain said.

He questioned how the trail will connect without the missing piece from Queens Bush to Ferris, since aside from healthy living, the trail is intended to be a full circuit around the village.

Seip said he felt the whole process had lacked integrity and trust.

“Tonight I want to express my disappointment in our mayor, councillor van der Maas and this whole process of putting a trail along Greenwood Hill Road,” Seip said.

He said he didn’t feel the committee had exhausted all their options and he was left with lots of questions about fencing, budget, when the trail will be paved, etc. He also noted he didn’t buy his property to have a trail in his backyard.

“The tennis courts have just been removed from lack of maintenance. How can we ensure this trail doesn’t end up the same way?” Seip said.

In regards to the cost of the trail, it’s being funded through the Healthy Kids Community Challenge (close to $30,000) and township development charges from new developments.

Coun. Shelley Wagner said council needs to look at it both ways. Coun. Herb Neher agreed, saying he wouldn’t want a trail in his backyard and when he thinks of a trail it’s out in nature, not through town.

Mayor Joe Nowak fully supported the project, saying it will enhance the community and there will always be people on both sides of the issue.

“We have to start somewhere,” Nowak said.

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