‘We’re talking about $5 million here.’
A Smiths Falls council member’s bid to persuade colleagues to change their decision on the design for the redevelopment of the town’s main street was shot down at a March 26 meeting.
Following a report from staff on the province’s decision not to provide the town with a $1.75 million grant from the current round of funding under the Connecting Links Program, Councillor Chris Cummings urged fellow council members to consider voting for a second time on the design for the redevelopment of Beckwith Street. Cummings said he believed the funding application was rejected because the engineering consultants’ recommended option, a “complete street” design featuring a move to parallel parking in order to provide room for bicycle lanes, had been turned down in favour of retaining the existing angle parking. In a vote held at a Feb. 26 meeting, councillors voted four to three in favour of keeping angle parking and against bike lanes.
“I’m going to ask this council to reconsider the parking configuration,” said Cummings, who chaired the March 26 meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole. Holding another vote on the design, he said, would require the agreement of four members of council.
Cummings stated that the province’s current policy is to encourage active transportation, and that the decision not to build bike lanes probably influenced provincial bureaucrats to turn down the funding application. He noted that when town representatives had the opportunity to meet Minister of Transportation Kathryn McGarry at a municipal conference in January, her first comment was, “I hope your application advocates a complete street, and there’d better be bike lanes.”
In his presentation to council on the two final design options for the redevelopment of Beckwith Street, engineering consultant Ron Clarke of the firm Parsons explained that a “complete street” design is welcoming to cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars.
“It’s always disappointing to get declined funding,” commented Mayor Shawn Pankow. He added that he also felt the town’s application “did not meet where the province is going with active transportation and complete streets.”
Pankow said the province’s promotion of active transportation is intended to improve public health, reduce medical costs and pollution, and encourage cycling tourism.
Cummings argued that the decision to keep angle parking should be re-evaluated because the town can’t complete the multi-million dollar redevelopment project without senior government grants. “We’re talking about $5 million here,” he said.
A separate grant earmarked for design and construction of sewer and drainage upgrades on Beckwith Street, in the amount of $934,000, has been approved through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund.
In his report to council, Director of Public Works and Utilities Troy Dunlop stated that he had met with the regional operations officer for the Ministry of Transportation on March 19 to discuss ways to improve the town’s application. He said the ministry official had advised that the province received 44 applications for the $30 million available in the current round of funding, and that projects that had reached the detailed design stage were given priority. “Projects that exhibited a greater degree of certainty that they would be completed within the funding window timeframe were ranked higher,” he added.
Asked by Councillor John Maloney to confirm whether the design choice had influence the ministry’s decision not to award the funding, Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris, who also attended the March 19 meeting, said the design was not specifically discussed. Town staff were assured that Smiths Falls is still eligible to apply for the next round of funding.
Maloney said he was opposed to holding another vote on the street design because no new information had come forward. “It’s too bad this has come down to a parking issue,” he said. “No matter what we decide someone’s not going to be happy.”
Maloney said his understanding was that the ministry decision was not based on the street design. “I think wat affected us the most was that we weren’t shove ready.”
Councillor Dawn Quinn, who also voted to keep angle parking, said she was “frustrated and upset” that the issue was being rehashed after a vote was already taken. “Let’s start working together instead of fighting with each other.”
Two other councillors who voted for the angle parking design option, Joe Gallipeau and Jay Brennan, did not attend the March 26 meeting. Councillor Lorraine Allen, who along with Pankow and Cummings originally voted for the parallel parking and bike lane design option, said she would support voting on the issue again.
Although unable to persuade any colleagues to change their positions, Cummings said, “Certainly I’m not going to give up, ever. I still think it’s the wrong thing.”