Residents want heritage street left as is
Residents on Victoria Avenue had a chance to look at potential improvements to their street at a recent public meeting and provide feedback on the Victoria Avenue Infrastructure Renewal Project proposed for 2022 – and they did not like what they saw.
That is why Chatham Coun. Bondy said he was to introduce a motion at council Monday night to scrap the entire renewal portion of the project and just go ahead with replacing the infrastructure. At press time, the results of that vote weren’t known.
The first public information meeting took place at Sprucedale United Church with display boards set up by project consultant RC Spencer and Associates, with conception drawings and proposed timelines for construction.
Municipal engineer and Manager of Infrastructure Services Mark McFadden said the project is in the very early stages and includes Victoria Avenue from Thames Street to McNaughton Avenue. The main purpose of the project is to update the sewer system and separate the storm sewer and the sanitary sewer pipes.
He said the road has to be ripped up to complete the update and it is an opportunity to add to or change the layout and design of the road and sidewalks. Due to the age of the street and its heritage significance, McFadden said the public input on what they would like to see – and not see – is important.
“There were about 70 people at the meeting which is a good turnout for a public information meeting. That was good to see. The main concerns expressed at the meeting and through other input is the location of a bike path, the possibility of removing trees and maintaining the heritage look of the street itself,” McFadden noted. “There are concerns about how it is going to look after the project is finished.”
Some of the details to be considered on the design would be the location of the sidewalk, McFadden added. For instance, the sidewalk could be curbside or could meander around the mature trees that line Victoria Avenue.
There was also a design board that showed a roundabout where Stephenson and Gladstone avenues meet Victoria as an alternative to a stop sign because of the slower-moving traffic volume.
Residents at the Thames Street end of Victoria expressed concerns about losing driveways and frontage due to their homes’ proximity to the road allowance when the project was first discussed last fall.
The recent public information meeting was just the first one and McFadden said they will be gathering all the comments, concerns and input for consideration and will be looking at another public meeting in perhaps September.
It’s still early, as the first potential phase of the project from Thames Street to Grand Avenue West isn’t proposed to begin until spring/summer of 2022, pending council and capital funding approval.
“We have to rip up the road from the river at Thames Street all the way down to McNaughton, so this is an opportunity to upgrade the road. It is a necessary project, but we want to keep the heritage component of the street,” McFadden said. “It is an old road and there is definitely heritage value to it from a municipal standpoint as well.”
Victoria Avenue residents, including Bondy, weren’t happy with either the format or the content of the public meeting, and the newly formed Voices of Victoria group held its own meeting Friday night at Blessed Sacrament Church.
Bondy, who attended the citizens’ meeting, said “the main concern that was universally shared was that the entire idea was a bad idea.”
Removing grass and property, and potentially 19 mature trees that line the 200-year-old historic road, to make way for a three-metre-wide asphalt strip and possibly a bike path is something residents feel with ruin the historic and aesthetic value of the road, Bondy noted.
“A lot of people were disappointed with the public meeting. They said it seemed disorganized, staff weren’t readily identifiable and the display boards didn’t even show the right colour for the asphalt,” Bondy said. “We’re a $230 million corporation and we can’t even get a colour right?”
There was no presentation explaining what was on the board either, Bondy noted, which was why residents had their own meeting to discuss how they could fight back against the renewal portion of the project.
Bondy said the consensus was they want the renewal scrapped, the infrastructure updated, and the road returned to the condition it is now, with trees trimmed to ensure their health, but none removed.
“That falls in line with our own municipal bylaw that doesn’t allow healthy trees to be cut down,” Bondy noted. “This is the stupidest thing I’ve seen in 10 years on council and I’ve seen a lot of things. I am going to fight very hard on this one.”
He added that bike paths are not used enough to justify destroying the historic aesthetic of an entire road.
As a resident of Victoria Avenue himself, Bondy said he checked with the Integrity Commissioner to ensure he did not have a conflict of interest on this issue and he was assured he did not.
Residents can still make comments and bring their concerns forward by filling out a comment form online or by calling municipal customer service reps at 519-360-1998 by March 13.
The details of the project and the artist drawings of the design concept can be seen on the municipal website at https://www.chatham-kent.ca/residents/maintenance/victoria-avenue-infrastructure-renewal. Copies of the comment form are also available on the website.