Town off in wrong direction when it comes to parking in west end, says developer

By Robert Washburn

The town’s plans to restrict or deny parking in two west-end subdivisions will create more problems than it solves and may even make things worse, one of the developers said recently.
New Amherst principle Max LeMarchant has never received any complaints about parking issues on public roads in the five years he as worked on the development on Elgin Street West, including in the winter when snow ploughs travel the streets.
“The whole thing with parking restrictions, I am not sure what generated it, but I think it is misguided,” he said.
A public meeting was held on May 9 to review a proposal that will restrict or deny parking in the West Park subdivision and New Amherst. In a report to council, snow ploughing was identified as a key issue on Caddy Drive. Carlisle Street was identified as not being wide enough to allow parking and cars, as was Kane Terrace. There were concerns raised by staff over the inability of emergency response vehicles, like fire trucks, ambulances and police to navigate the roads.
LeMarchant wonders why there is suddenly so much concern, since the narrow streets were always part of the original design for both subdivisions, ever since the project was first proposed nearly 20 years ago. New Amherst and West Park follow a neo-traditional design called New Urbanism, which recreates historic communities by placing homes closer to the streets, more green spaces, parking in the rear with laneway access and a host of other features, including narrow streets.
He argues on-street parking was always part of the design in order to allow guest to park and as a traffic-calming feature.
“What amazes me is that this is like something that popped up. It is like the first day anyone realized it,” he said in an interview.
The narrow street encourages people to walk, bicycle and strengthen a sense of community.
“If you take parking off the street, you end up with something that is dysfunctional,” he said, adding that the street is now too wide and cars will speed.
More than 50 residents from the two subdivisions packed into the council chambers on May 9 to express their views on the proposed changes.
Some residents complained about the lack of public consultation and wanted to know why the streets were designed this way. Others said they did not know they were buying into the new urbanism design. Still others called the town’s approach crazy and it should be up to the town to make it right, not residents.
LeMarchant says homebuyers are fully informed about the design features and are aware of what they have purchased.
“We absolutely tell everybody exactly what this community is all about,” he said.
Some residents called on council to slow down the process and meet with them before any final plans are implemented.
Councillor Miriam Mutton said the public comments would be integrated into the staff report, which is expected to come back to council shortly.
“I am hoping when it does come back, it is more friendly to the neighbourhoods,” she said in an interview following the public meeting.
She said a bicycle trip through the subdivisions helped her realize there is plenty of parking for each home.
“It is amazing how much vehicles can actually be stacked,” she said.
However, while she is willing to provide time, the process is not going to be slowed down too much.
“My preferred approach would be, and I think staff would support this, the report would come back well thought out as best as we could and we would give a response to that report,” she said.
Mutton said it is up to Mayor Gil Brocanier and Chief Administrative Officer Stephen Peacock to decide on any further public meetings. But, she said she is ready to ask for them.
“I am taking this one step at a time. My gut feeling is when really need to go back to residents again. Whether all areas need multiple reviews, I am not so sure,” she said.