Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Council looks towards potential shared partnership with residents on some infrastructure issues

A request by a 7th Avenue East resident to build
a garage on lane access has taken Council
down a road of much larger focus on how to
approach local area improvements

The members of City Council may soon be looking to redefine the expectations of the community when it comes to infrastructure needs, should they follow up and expand on some of the elements of a trial balloon floated at Monday's Council session.

What started out as a simple variance request by a homeowner on 7th Avenue East quickly morphed into a much larger discussion as to how the City may address local area improvements, with the Mayor and City Manager Robert Long seemingly looking to start a conversation on cost sharing with residents for such things as lane maintenance and perhaps even road repairs, depending on how far the Council wants to go down the road of their percolating plans.

The Report from iPlan on the variance request for a proposed garage (available on the Agenda for Monday's Meeting), quickly faded from the discussion table after Operations Director Richard Pucci raised some red flags related to potential civic liability related to an adjacent lane; the concern serving to raise the starting flag for the larger discussion on how the city may move forward as it continues to struggle to provide remediation to the city's road infrastructure.

A passage from a Report to Council from Monday's session

The opening commentary on prospect of change coming with a concern from Councillor Barry Cunningham noting of the ramifications that asking residents to share a larger cost of improvements may bring.

"We're opening up a can of worms here, if want to stop people using something because it has a few potholes in it ... I won't even go there, there are other streets that aren't maintained by us either and people have been asking us to maintain them for years"

Towards the prospect of a new approach towards local improvements in neighbourhoods City Manager Robert Long carried the bulk of the conversation, both related to the individual variance request and the larger topic of how to move forward.

Mr. Long observing that if the city does allow a permit, they would be facing added liability, by acting on the access to the lane there would be a duty of care required of the city to pay attention to the condition of the roadway and if it isn't taken care of the the City would attract the liability.

He also noted for the Council members how there are many similar situations found from the 1907 City plan.

Towards the larger issue of area improvements the City Manager noted as to how the city would have to meet its own standards of any laneway where they may taken on similar improvement.  He also explored the idea of Local Improvements, with residents getting together with the City to put the improvements in place on a 50/50 shared cost.

"Many municipalities have something called the Local Improvements and we've talked to council about  this on a number of occasions, where, where the neighbourhood gets together and says I'm sick and tired  of these potholes, lets get together and lets pave the laneway and we'll put it on our taxes, in that location for say twenty years. We'll ask for the municipality to chip in a share, usually that share in most municipalities I've worked in is fifty percent. So the general taxpayer pays for fifty percent of the improvements"

The City Manager also called attention to the past financial challenges faced by the city and some of the consequences of that era.

"Look during the big downturn, you know the city sold its grader. As a City Manager arriving fifteen years after that, I'm not impressed that we have a municipality with many gravel laneways and no grader. So you know you get to recognize the fact that we've gone through a tremendous issue of downturn and reduction of services ... but one of these ways in which I think Richard is legitimately is trying to sort of set a particular standard ...  is that when people ask for something to improve their circumstance that they would  be amenable to contributing towards the public good by making some improvements to the areas that they want to use, I don't think that's unreasonable."

Mr Long also outlined how in most municipalities it's very common for the City and the residents to share the cost on such kinds of community improvement work on infrastructure items such as lanes and access, stating that it is a conversation that Council should have with the community as the city comes back from very challenging  times.

In response to some questions from Councillor Blair Mirau focused on the burden that may be placed one resident or applicant when it comes to such work, Mr Long outlined how such community approach may work.

"The concept of local improvement is to identify all of those people that benefit from the improvement and ask them to pay, make a contribution, usually on their taxes over usually a twenty year period which really means we can do an awful big improvement to a laneway with a lot of money ... and the contribution in your taxes would be quite low. And if the city chips in you know a percentage within our roads budget, then what you have is the general tax payers contributing, the you have all those beneficial property owners which are adjacent to it. Then what happens then is they get to vote as to whether they like this idea or not, there needs to be majority ... and that's usually how these things are done ... It's a well used methodology for making improvements on laneways and in fact a number of other improvements can take place in subdivisions where the roads maybe are falling apart and the city just doesn't have the budget to pay the full shot and so we're all in this together with the neighbourhood who would benefit"

As Mayor Brain joined the debate, he observed how this was a good time to start that discussion, noting of the upcoming approval of the paving budget and how it only covers certain items and how access points like lanes may require a local improvement bylaw which he observed would accelerate that kind of work.

With the city facing what the mayor described as ninety million dollars in road work requirements, that work would not cover such elements as laneways. Mr. Brain noting that with a twenty year paving schedule much of these local area concerns still would not be addressed.

"I understand the situation, I mean  I've been here for seven years and I've had many places that have lanes that want upgrades. I mean we're going to approving a paving budget tonight which we only doubled like a year ago and that's for the entire town. And we know that the roads budget for the entire town is well over 90 million dollars, that does not include laneways ... So maybe this is the time to start bringing the local improvement bylaw forward on a lot of different areas because I have a lot of different areas in the community  that want to do stuff like that, and I think that's a way of accelerating the work rather than solely relying on the paving budget "

Councillor Cunningham noted of the irony of the current city push for the community to clean up and enhance their properties, while now seeking to penalize them for doing just that.

"Here we are, we are pushing for people to clean up their houses, improve the neighbourhood. This person comes along, wants to improve their lot and we're going to penalize them now by saying that he can't use the lane that he's been using for the last forty or fifty years, if it wasn't him it was the person who lived in the house before. And we don't know, records don't show who put that lane in there, it could have been the city that put it in fifty years ago"

The mayor countered that narrative dismissing the suggestion that the city is punishing anyone, noting of the situation of the lane in question and the potential liabilities involved and instead how the City should look towards engagement with the community to take on some of these concerns.

For the majority of the council membership, the need to not place a burden on residents seemed to be the dominant theme of their contribution to the topic. 

The current of the conversation on the night one of setting the stage for some fascinating discussions ahead should they move forward towards the prospect of asking the public to take a more active part in the funding of remediation projects such as lane access, or if they move further into the concept perhaps even local area road repairs outside of the larger capital budget plans.

You can explore the full back and forth of the Council session from our Council timeline feature

The conversation is also available through the video archive of Monday's meeting starting at the 42 minute mark.

Past notes on infrastructure themes can be reviewed from our archive page here.

While a range of past council discussion topics is available to explore from our Council Discussion page.


  1. I am a taxpayer with lane access. It has deteriorated over the years due to lack of maintenance by the city. When I moved here the city kept it up. My assessment is based on me having lane access and beneficial to my property. Now the city wants me to pay for upgrading laneway while they are responsible for deterioration.

    Next if I pay for upgrade will this be done by city forces? I don't think so. I will put it out to contract and the city can pay the contractor their share.

    We can buy lots to give away for housing but can't keep up laneways. There are serious problems with the way this city is being run. We have some of the highest taxes in the province. Now the city wants more of my money. Enough is enough already.

  2. "I'm not impressed that we have a municipality with many gravel laneways and no grader."
    Here's a crazy idea, go rent one.
    Find a way, not an excuse.

  3. Why throw out a word salad about local improvements when you have not clearly defined them. Because if you do not, this could happen;

  4. Works that may be undertaken as local improvements as per the local government act;