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Cambridge Advisory Committees Clash Over Blair Road Turf War

News 06:00 AM by Ray Martin Cambridge Times|

Mayor Doug Craig has asked two opposing city advisory committees and residents of Blair Road to sit down and sort out a squabble over planned sidewalk improvements and the impact on this narrow strip of boulevard.

A narrow swath of grass is at the centre of debate concerning the reconstruction of Blair Road.

The grassy boulevard between the sidewalk and the curb is the latest battleground in the four-year feud between the city’s engineers, residents and two city advisory committees.

Since 2015 there have been several proposals for upgrading the street. The first involved widening the street from its current five metres to the provincial standard of six metres. At the same time, new sidewalks would be installed. The sidewalk width is 1.2 metres and the provincial standard calls for the 1.5-metre width.

Those plans fell flat with residents and the city’s municipal heritage advisory committee as the widened road and sidewalks would decimate the mature street trees, uproot the historic street lamps and ruin the street’s character as well as take away parking. That strip of grass does not warrant an exemption.
Sheri-Lynn Roberts, chair of the accessibility advisory committee.
Following several years of talks, the city decided to stay with the status quo regarding the widths of both the road and the sidewalks and allow street parking. The move would retain the character of the Dickson Hill heritage conservation district, but now it runs afoul of the provinces accessibility act that mandates, with few exceptions, that all sidewalks now be built 1.5 metres wide.

And there’s the rub. The existing 1.2-metre sidewalk allows Blair Road to retain its narrow grassy boulevard, which was an element of the landscape designated as part of the heritage district. Adding another 30 centimetres of concrete would narrow the boulevard too much and it could no longer support the grass.

That strip of grass does not warrant an exemption, said Sheri-Lynn Roberts, chair of the accessibility advisory committee. The needs of people are greater than that tiny strip of grass they will be losing.

Roberts said the wider sidewalk will benefit able as well as physically challenged residents and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is the law. She maintained that communities should not be allowed to pick and choose, oh, were a heritage community so we don’t have to abide by the AODA.

Pointing to the proposed new heritage district being considered for the Galt core, Roberts suggested an exception for the Blair Road sidewalks could lead to other exemptions throughout the downtown.

Roberts said the AODA is of benefit to everyone and that the widened sidewalk would have a very small impact to the street.

AODA is the law and we should be abiding by it everywhere, Roberts said in calling for its consistent application across the city.

She went on to say it’s the city’s legal duty to comply and went so far as to say the city is discriminating against the disabled if the narrower sidewalks were allowed.

Mayor Doug Craig took exception to that.

The law does allow exemptions, he said. I want to make it very clear, we are not here tonight to discriminate against anyone.

What we have here is a conflict of values and we are trying to work it out.

Graham Hurst, a 30-year resident of Blair Road, represented the Blair Road reconstruction neighbourhood committee. His group wants the exemption and argued that the existing sidewalk width can be kept because it’s not a new sidewalk or a redeveloped sidewalk, but is the maintenance on an existing sidewalk.

It can be put back the same way. AODA doesn’t apply, he said.

Hurst also noted that there is a nine percent grade on Dickson Hill and that section of Blair Road, while AODA standards call for a five percent slope to provide access.

Craig put forward a motion that was accepted, calling for the reconstruction plans be referred back to the city’s heritage and accessibilities committees, along with the residents to try and work out a solution and bring a report and recommendation back to council on July 10.

Should a compromise be found and the project approved, it would go to the budget for funding and construction would take place next spring.

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