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Friday, December 8, 2023
Owners worry roundabout will kill St. Davids businesses
Paul Harber, proprietor of Ravine Estates Winery, thinks the roundabout is death to the St. Davids business community. SUPPLIED

St. Davids residents are collecting signatures to fight back against the region’s planned multi-million dollar roundabout.

The petition is the latest development in an ongoing dispute over what to do with the four-way stop at the intersection of Four Mile Creek and York roads.

The Change.org petition has been organized by the St. Davids Ratepayers Association and can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yhfhuhyu.

The region says a roundabout is the safest solution, but many residents are not convinced.

“We need traffic to slow down and to stop,” the petition says.

“The purpose roundabouts provide is the opposite of what’s needed,” it adds, noting there are multiple options for a bypass instead.

Frank Tassone, the region’s associate director of transportation engineering, told The Lake Report a bypass is not a viable solution at this point in time and it was not considered when the region assessed the needs of the intersection.

The region would need permission from the transportation ministry to build an interchange on Concession 6 and connect it to Highway 405, he told The Lake Report in an email.

Business owners in the heart of St. Davids are especially worried about a roundabout.

One reason is because the region will need to expropriate land from the property owners near the intersection.

The Ontario Expropriations Act says people whose land is expropriated for public use are entitled to compensation.

How much the region is planning to pay is up in the air, but Tassone said compensation will be based on the “fair market value” of the properties it obtains.

One estimate from the region, which does not include the cost of expropriation, evaluates the price of building the roundabout at over $3.8 million.

“Many of the specifics regarding the amount of property required to be expropriated are uncertain at this time,” said an environmental study prepared by the region June 2022.

Paul Harber, proprietor of Ravine Estate Winery in St. Davids, remembers eight years ago, when the project was still young, it was already a “sure thing.”

When he met with the region’s consultants in August 2021 to discuss the project, they thought the land around the intersection was owned by either the region or the town, he said.

The intersection of Four Mile Creek and York Roads is home to several businesses.

The Old Firehall restaurant, for example, could lose up to 20 per cent of its parking, said Harber.

Harber, whose family also owns the property adjacent to the Old Firehall, said he would also lose much of the frontage on the property, making it more difficult to develop in the future.

The land next to the Old Firehall is “a very significant piece of village commercially zoned land,” he said.

And there could have been opportunities to build and grow new businesses and long-term housing there, he added.

“This roundabout will kill all of that,” he said.

Tassone said a roundabout would need nine per cent less land than a signalized intersection.

Other businesses that could be impacted include flower shop Bloom & Co., Junction Coffee Bar, St. Davids Dental and York Barbers Lounge.

“I really feel bad for the existing businesses,” Harber said.

Thomas Elltoft owns Niagara-on-the-Lake Realty on Four Mile Creek Road, just past the intersection.

He was less worried about the impact on his real estate business, but has lingering concerns for his neighbours.

He said the roundabout could take business away from the shops surrounding the four-way stop.

Since the point of a roundabout is to move traffic more quickly through an area he expects fewer people will stop at the shops at the four corners.

Construction alone would have an immediate and negative impact on the area, he said.

Dan Segal, president of the St. Davids Ratepayers Association, said none of the businesses that could be affected by the construction have been in talks with the region on expropriation.

It “certainly seems a little backwards” that the region hasn’t figured out the total cost of the project “before committing significant dollars to it,” he said.

Elltoft said, “I don’t know, one neighbour in favour. The only person I knew who was actually in favour of it was (Lord Mayor) Gary Zalepa.”

Zalepa supported the project when he was regional councillor, but “flip-flopped” during his mayoral campaign in 2022, Ellioft claimed.

Zalepa told The Lake Report he supports the project because there is an urgent need to upgrade the infrastructure and protect the safety of people using the intersection.

He said all the information he has seen shows a roundabout is the safest option.

“Gary keeps on saying, ‘I trust the process. I trust the process.’ I think the process was flawed,” Harber said.

“There’s been no major accident at that four-way intersection. So, other than just traffic, why are we doing this?” Harber asked.

He said that question remains unanswered.

Zalepa isn’t the only one placing trust in process, though.

“I trust that the region did the job that they were supposed to do,” regional Coun. Andrea Kaiser said in an interview.

“Whether I personally like it or don’t is kind of a moot point,” she added.

Like Zalepa, Kaiser said the region’s environmental assessment shows a roundabout is the best solution to the congestion in St. Davids.

“I am not opposed to the roundabout,” she said, but she added she was open to listening to feedback.

Kaiser said in her 2022 run for council she found there was no consensus on the roundabout.

“There was a lot of people who thought it was an awesome idea,” she said, adding residents have been part of the consultation process throughout.

Harber said public consultation was done mostly through virtual meetings during the pandemic.

This is a problem, he said, for an older community, where many residents may not even have an email account.

“I don’t think half or more than half of the affected community even knew that this was going on,” he said.

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