July 11, 2012

Subdivision needs pedestrian and cycle routes

As published in The Erin Advocate

I recently took a walk up the Tenth Line from Dundas Street, along the path that runs through the very middle of the L-shaped parcel of land owned by Solmar Development Corp, and tried to image that expanse of farmland filled with houses, businesses, parks and roads.

It will be a massive project, spanning about 1.25 kilometres along Dundas, and the same distance north to County Road 124. While construction is still years away, now is the time for us to start making suggestions, to ensure that this addition to the community is the best it can be.

The developer intends to file an initial application this summer, but it is accepting public input before the formal public meetings. I sat down with Solmar Planner Maurizio Rogato to ask some questions, and put in my own two cents worth.

I think a modern subdivision should have more than traditional roads and sidewalks to move people around.

"We have a central entrance way that we're going to have to, I think, make impressive," said Rogato. "We are going to have a definite pedestrian network. The majority of it will be traditional. Whatever encourages some sense of place, and connecting to those places, I'm a big supporter of."

The main road into the development from the south, going through the Seniors Housing, leading to the Central Square and carrying on to the industrial and commercial lands to the north, is a boulevard. Normally, that would mean a centre strip of land with trees between two sections of road.

What if that extra strip of land could instead be on one side of the road only, and include not only trees, but a paved path that could be wide enough for two-way bicycle traffic, plus a designated strip for pedestrians.

This would be consistent with the Active Transportation Plan being developed at the county level, which is intended to have a real impact on community design.

I have wondered about a green network of trails or off-road sidewalks in the residential areas, but that might take up too much land.

"Greenways, I don't know if they are implementable, but we're definitely looking at that," said Rogato. "I love the idea. You want to be able to connect. When you're introducing community uses like we are, the community parks and connecting those places, I get that. That's going to be a challenge."

It would be great if we could get one north-south bike/pedestrian path, and a second  east-west one that would connect the wooded area and school site on the east, to the Central Square in the middle and the park or stormwater pond area on the west.

This could connect to a proposed loop trail encircling the adjacent Deer Pit. That trail would run along an old rail spur line on the border of the Solmar land, as an offshoot of the Elora-Cataract Trailway.

The Central Square is intended to provide open space next to medium-density housing:

"This is all trying to create that connection, that sense of place, create the walkability, create the connection to public spheres where tremendous community things can occur if properly managed," said Rogato. "You can have outdoor markets, you can have art shows, connections with the schools. It's a place to congregate."

It would also be good to have some public access to the greenlands on the east, where a tributary of the West Credit River flows, plus access to the Elora-Cataract Trail, but Rogato said conservation authorities are very protective of such zones.

Pavement or interlocking stone may be too formal for a natural area. Wood chips would be OK, but they require regular maintenance. I think most people would be content with something simple, in the Bruce Trail style.

Rogato is aware that some current residents are not happy with the projected growth of Erin village, but he noted that Solmar bought land that was already designated for housing.

"Council made that decision for everybody," he said. "That's what the Official Plan of Erin calls for – the OP is supposed to be a community vision.

"Yes, developers are in the business of making money, like any other business would be. But at the same time, developers are community builders. We have a responsibility to the community, to ensure that we have assessed the needs of the community. Council shares that responsibility with us, and I'd like us to be cooperating together."