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Niagara Falls
Monday, June 5, 2023
Roundabout could be costly, hurt businesses, owners say

This is one in a series of stories on a regional proposal to build a roundabout at the main intersection in St. Davids.

Thomas Elltoft, part-owner of Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty, wouldn’t have bought his office property in St. Davids if he had known a roundabout was going to be built steps away from the front door.

“It starts to handcuff its use and I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise,” Elltofft said in an interview.

Elltoft and a business partner own 247 Four Mile Creek Rd., just south of the intersection of York and Four Mile Creek roads, known colloquially as the “Four Corners.” He leases part of the building to Bloom & Co., a flower and gift shop.

Elltoft says the roundabout will affect his building in two ways: the ability to grow and its current use.

It is expected the region will need to expropriate land from some of the surrounding properties in order to build the roundabout.

As of Wednesday, regional staff had not responded to several requests from The Lake Report to speak about the roundabout proposal.

“As far as I am concerned, if they want to take that they can buy my whole building,” Elltoft said.

“I would only sell my building, I don’t want to sell a portion of it.”

He said the region would need to buy a large chunk of the sidewalk directly out front of the building.

There had been plans to install a cafe there and have seating out front, something Elltoft says is now unrealistic with the limited space.

The sidewalk would also be moved closer to the building, which raises safety concerns for Elltoft. Due to decreased sightlines, drivers leaving the parking lot could have trouble seeing approaching pedestrians and vehicles, he said.

Since the rear of the building borders on conservation land, Elltoft said he has no options for expanding in that direction.

And overall, the building will lose value when its frontage is impacted, he said.

“When you buy a building, the front of it is the most valuable part, especially in commercial,” Elltoft said.

“If you are taking away frontage from me, let alone access to our building, you are drastically impacting the rest of the value of the building.”

This potential expropriation of land would also affect Ravine Estate Winery, just northwest of the intersection.

Proprietor Paul Harber says having to acquire land around the roundabout will escalate the region's costs for the project.

“I’m not gonna talk figures now but it would not be cheap,” Harber said in an interview.

Overall, business owners are concerned the roundabout will impede St. Davids' possible growth as a vibrant commercial destination in NOTL because the centre of the village will be designed around vehicle traffic instead of pedestrian use.

In 2005, planning firm Brook McIlroy undertook a study of St. Davids to lay out a strategy for the village's future. The document recommended turning the Four Corners into a pedestrian landmark for residents and visiting tourists.

“For this vision to be carried out, it is important to focus on the creation of a truly pedestrian-friendly environment and to strike a balance between the needs of local residents” and visitors, the document reads.

The study says the intersection should be designed to “slow down traffic and improve pedestrian safety and comfort without compromising the function of the two regional roads.”

Harber said it is frustrating this study was done nearly two decades ago and went unheeded by the region and Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Putting in a roundabout now as a way to mitigate traffic build-up is the result of regional and municipal failure to improve St. Davids infrastructure as the area expanded over the last 15 years, he said.

While a roundabout would slow traffic, Harber does not think it would be safer for pedestrians.

“I don’t understand how anybody thinks that a roundabout is safer for pedestrian traffic to walk through,” he said.

Harber is worried cars wouldn’t be required to stop like they are at a four-way stop or a traffic light, resulting in kids and locals having a difficult time finding their way across the road.

On its website, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation says “roundabouts are generally safer for pedestrians than traditional intersections,” because there are fewer points of contact between vehicles and people on foot.

Harber said the Region of Niagara should be focused on routing traffic around the heart of St. Davids instead of making the village centre as traffic-friendly as possible.

“Let's open up the arteries around an area instead of shoving everything through it,” he said.

Harber referred to the intersection of York Road and Concession 6 Road as a possible contender for rerouting traffic flow and installing a roundabout.

He also is concerned about how cars will enter adjacent businesses once the St. Davids roundabout is built.

Most roundabouts feature medians dividing oncoming traffic as they approach the roundabout. Medians in this situation would stop vehicles from turning into parking lots for businesses such as the Old Firehall Restaurant and St. Davids Dental, Harber said.

“Parking I don’t think will change but the in-and-out access is a concern,” said Dr. Angela Murray of St. Davids Dental.

Customers leaving Murray’s practice will only be able to turn right onto Four Mile Creek Road, heading away from the village centre, if the roundabout’s median extends far enough.

“When I built my practice I actually wanted in-and-out access on Four Mile Creek and York roads, which would make flow for patients getting out, if they needed to get out onto York Road, more of an option,” she said.

“We’ve got a lot of cars in that parking lot, plus staff, right? I just don’t think they’re taking that into account.”

The three business owners all said they have had little to no communication regarding the roundabout proposal from the region.

“No one from the region contacted me at all until Paul (Harber) brought it to my attention,” Elltoft said.

So, he reached out to the region for answers about how much of his land would need to be expropriated.

It's been two months and he said he still has not received a clear answer.

NEXT: Many residents don't want a roundabout built – and one St. Davids couple is split on the idea.

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