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Council approves plan to convert laneway

Nobody’s going to mistake it for captivating outdoor spaces of European cities, but the idea of a public place to enjoy a coffee or a bite to eat was alluring enough to Woolwich councillors that they voted to stop up an Elmira laneway.

The public roadway that runs between a pair of Arthur Street business – the Bargain Shop and Kitchen Kuttings Café – will be closed to traffic for the summer to allow for the creation of a public seating area.

Meeting Tuesday night, councillors quickly endorsed the idea, at least on a trial basis, pitched by Elmeda Weber of Kitchen Kuttings.

Her request actually had four parts. Along with closing the laneway, she asked for 16 parking spots in the municipal lot served by the laneway to be designated with a two-hour limit to better ensure the space is available to shoppers rather than staff of downtown stores. As well, she’d like to see the township set up picnic tables in the laneway if it is closed, adding there are plans to paint a mural on the side of the building facing the lane.

“What we’d like it to be is a social downtown place for people to come with their families and enjoy the food available downtown,” Weber said of creating a relaxing space. “This is for everybody to enjoy downtown.”

Township clerk Val Hummel, who called the idea a “positive,” told councillors the requests are supported by the Elmira Business Improvement Area (BIA), though she has to talk with the Region of Waterloo about any concerns, particularly traffic flows from people used to turning down the laneway. As well, the region would have to remove a directional sign pointing to the parking lot.

Councillors pointed out longstanding issues with parking. On-street parking, for instance, is limited to two hours, but it’s rarely enforced. The BIA knows there’s an issue with staff taking up parking spots, but doesn’t want to risk ticketing shoppers.

Hummel noted that the BIA has long been torn between reactive versus proactive parking enforcement, though more aggressive measures would be needed to ensure the 16 designated spots are used only for short-term parking.

“We need them to say ‘proactive,’” she said of the BIA.

Overall, the plan met with quick approval, subject to some final tweaking.

Coun. Larry Shantz said the BIA approval sold him on the idea.

“That’s our key to going along with it.”

Coun. Scott McMillan was more effusive in his praise for the idea, calling it an inexpensive way to help businesses and noting that “space-making” for the public is an ideal way to make the downtown core more attractive.

“I’m really excited about this. I was at the BIA meeting when they approved this. It’s a big step forward in improving our downtown,” he said, suggesting it would help draw more people to the core. “Downtowns thrive when you create space for people.”

Coun. Fred Redekop, too, praised the concept, suggesting the laneway be closed permanently.

“I would propose that we close it for good,” he suggested, saying it would be more confusing to close it for six months, then reopen it for six months before closing it again.

Council was more comfortable with a trial period, however. Hummel said she’d talk to the region and the BIA to get more details prior to next week’s meeting.

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