Niagara-on-the-Lake town councillors have rejected a staff recommendation to reopen a small parking area where River Beach Drive meets Balls Beach Park and turn it into a “hammerhead” turnaround.
Councillors felt the town’s recommendations interfered too much with the park, did not increase safety and did not take the environment into consideration.
A so-called hammerhead turnaround is a designated area in which cars cannot park but can use the spot to unload items such as kayaks or coolers and perform a three-point turn to leave instead of reversing out.
Councillors were presented with a staff report at a committee of the whole general meeting on July 19 which came after consultation with Associated Engineering on how to improve safety in the area.
Recommendations included the installation of the turnaround, allowing parking on the south side of River Beach Drive and along Turntable Way, and connecting Ball Street and River Beach Drive with a paved road.
Councillors closed the area last year to address residents' concerns about pedestrian safety.
Robin Ridesic told council that closing the parking area last year improved safety but the new proposal by staff to reopen it will make it dangerous to pedestrians again. There is a municipal parking lot roughly 100 metres east on River Beach Drive.
Town administrators were at a loss when councillors rejected the report's recommendations.
“Staff are looking at other staff and texting each other that we’re all confused,” director of operations Sheldon Randall told councillors.
“I think we met the mandate of council and residents' concerns about what we were supposed to do and we’re not sure (what to do next).”
Ridesic said residents “are all happy with the current situation and do not believe there is any longer a safety concern.”
Some councillors felt, as did Ridesic, that the staff recommendation simply reinstated the original problem.
“I would like to say that the hammerhead does not address the safety issue. In fact, it brings back the safety issue that council has already addressed,” Ridesic said.
Randall had a different take.
“It was never determined that it was unsafe to begin with. I think the number one difference that you are going to see is that we’re not recommending having cars parked there other than just a short time for drop offs,” he said.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero disagreed while thanking staff for the work they did. She argued that opening up the spot will encourage people to park there.
“We can have an argument whether it’s a loading zone or a parking lot. But if you look at years previous to this, cars park there even though we say we are going to enforce it and nobody is going to be allowed. Cars park there,” she said.
The mayor also disliked that the hammerhead and the proposed connection between Ball Street and River Beach Drive would cut into the park, saying she would rather have that preserved as green space.
“I’m not a believer of putting parking lots in parks,” she said.
Some councillors were also concerned about the effect that paving in the park would have on a large willow tree located about three metres away from the proposed parking area. Others were quick to point out that willow trees have a short lifespan.
“It’s nice to think that big old trees are going to live forever but they don’t, especially willows,” Coun. Clare Cameron said.
Coun. Erwin Wiens was in favour of installing the hammerhead and noted cars had been parking and turning around in that area since before he was born. He said there was no justification for blocking off the area.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor offered a motion that staff review their original report and amend it. Her motion suggested the town take the environment into consideration and install parking along one side of Turntable Way.
The motion was passed 5-4 and will go to next week's council meeting for final approval.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report