By Sue Tiffin
Concerns about early plans for the Gull River affordable housing project related to parking spaces and lack of sidewalks were brought forth in the county’s joint accessibility advisory committee’s Feb. 24 virtual meeting.
Committee members, meeting for the first time since March 2020, discussed a need for more accessible parking spaces on the site, and questioned the lack of sidewalks leading to and from the site.
The $6.8 million housing development proposed for the intersection of Highway 35 and County Road 21 in Minden plans for 30 affordable units within 15 duplexes on a property between the intersection and the Gull River. Minden Hills council has unanimously supported the project, which is much-needed in the county.
The property is physically close to town and services such as grocery stores, but the nearest sidewalk is not located near the entrance to the site on Highway 35.
“I guess, going down the side of the highway is, you know, a bit dangerous,” said Mallory Bishop, committee member. “But, I’m just thinking about ways to get in and out of the area as well, to make sure that it’s easily walkable to get out of here because if you’re close to that area, some people might want to walk into downtown because they’re close enough, but that design would have to be done as it’s developed so there’s enough shoulder room and so on just so that it’s not dangerous to get out of there.”
Minden Hills planner Ian Clendening said there were “five lanes of Hwy 35 to get across to County Road 21” and no modifications are proposed at this time. There are not currently sidewalks between Rotary Park and the site.
“Someone who comes out of their unit, to the highway, once they get that far, even if they have a sidewalk to get that far, they have no option but to be on the road in their wheelchair if they go beyond that point?,” asked committee member Jim Miners.
“I’m very concerned too about people walking along the highway,” said committee member Phylis Baker. “I’ve seen it coming to Haliburton, another housing complex near Tim Horton’s. It is a bit dangerous, I see people on their scooters along there and it does concern me, the wheelchair not having the access or a sidewalk … to get to town. I know people will do it, they will try.”
In a Jan. 28 report, Clendening said “where sidewalks are proposed adjacent to a provincial highway, the installation and maintenance of such would be a municipal responsibility and would require an agreement with the Ministry of Transportation to provide assurances for such. Given the distances involved, the cost of installing a sidewalk along Highway 35 would be considerable.”
He noted the concern had also been raised during a virtual open house held Dec. 16.
Committee members also questioned the number of parking spaces and accessible parking spaces available to residents and their guests or visitors, which might include personal support workers.
“I do think that it should be the responsibility of the developer to make sure that there are some parking spots that are designed as truly accessible,” said Warden Liz Danielsen.
“I’d like to echo that too, that seems like an oversight,” said committee member Sarah Levis.
Committee chair Councillor Cec Ryall said parking design as presented was “definitely an issue that needs more investigation one way or another,” while Councillor Pat Kennedy said he was concerned about the lack of parking and said developers were “going to have to do some more work to accommodate some more spaces,” ensuring that those using spaces didn’t have a great distance between their parking spot and entrance to the units.
While one committee member noted they were disappointed the plans were not more proactive in addressing accessibility issues, county CAO Mike Rutter clarified the plans were requested prior to them being fully formed so that comment could be made as early as possible.
“I think it is important though that as these proposals become more fully formed, we continue to monitor them, watch for the changes that are happening and even provide further comment when that happens, but this really is something that is coming about because we asked to see these plans early,” said Rutter.
Clendening will bring the comments of the committee to Minden Hills council for their consideration.