Long road ahead for safer sidewalks in Peachland

“See you downtown. Be careful!”

Notebook, pencil and phone in hand, I wave goodbye to Rob and the kids and as my car disappears around the corner, I start walking. I’m on Princeton at Bonnie Lane, and I’m making my way down to Beach Ave. I’ve never been a pedestrian on Princeton before, and I’m guessing it’s going to be as dicey as you’d see: A high-traffic road, with cars and trucks going anywhere from 50 km/h, to who knows, judging by the skid marks at various spots along the stretch.

Between Bonnie Lane and Lipsett Ave, I feel relatively safe. There’s a wide-enough shoulder, and shortly, there’s a concrete barrier as the walking area narrows slightly. As I round the corner and start walking towards Ellison, I’m thankful that on this cloudy Wednesday, cars are granting me a bit of space, and thanks to that speed clock, I note 48 km/h was the quickest anyone was going.

Fourteen minutes later, I didn’t feel as safe. As I stroll by Lipsett (did you know this street was named after prominent vet / surgeon / early resident Dr. Robert C. Lipsett? Those historical signs are something you can’t appreciate whizzing by in a car), I made note of where you need to start paying attention: About 150 m before Somerset, the wider walking area ends. The shoulder is narrow, and in spots, there’s a sharp drop off. The cars are a lot closer, and I put my phone away. 

It’s starting to rain a bit, and hurrah! A proper sidewalk. I cross Princeton (running) just before Columbia, and it’s clear sailing from there. And at the other end of the tunnel under the highway, the District has planted some native grasses and xeriscape-friendly flowers. A nice ending to a trek I definitely wouldn’t do with my children in tow, and I’m not sure whether I’d ride my bike down, either. A sidewalk all the way along Princeton, even if it’s just up to Turner would be nice, even needed. 

I asked that question on my Phoenix Facebook page, and several people weighed in. One parent says she won’t let her daughter ride her bike down Princeton, and the section by Somerset is particularly risky. Another said it’s just plain scary, and the shoulders are inadequate for walking, let alone biking. And with e-bikes being a new thing among many Peachlanders, space for cycling should be part of the District’s plans. When I was approaching Lipsett during my walk, one cyclist was lucky the driver of the pickup truck behind him pretty much stopped, as a car was coming down the hill, in the opposite direction.

So, Princeton (and yes, Trepanier and Ponderosa too) are in need of sidewalks. The people I talked to agree, and so does Mayor Cindy Fortin. She says Princeton at Somerset is especially bad. And she blames in part, developers, who help pay for such projects through DCCs – or Development Cost Charges.

Right after Somerset, on Princeton..

“That Somerset Road has been a real sticking point with me, personally and probably with other councillors because the Ponderosa development was supposed to, in joining their development onto Somerset, connect it. They were supposed to do some work on that road and we keep carrying that expected money forward every year in the budget.”

She says the District has also been waiting on major upgrades to Princeton.

“We’re waiting on these projects to go ahead and it’s very frustrating but there’s only so much you can do when we just can’t as a community afford to build sidewalks throughout the town.”

Fortin was a councillor the last time any significant pedestrian-focussed work was done up Princeton – a project back in 2013/2014 that resulted in what you see today between Bonnie Lane and Gummow – a wider walkway at grade with the existing road, but separated from traffic by barriers in some spots. That was paid for with approximately $377,000 in Gas Tax Funding.

That’s one of the ways sidewalks can be funded, says councillor Keith Fielding (who was Mayor during those improvements), but yes, we’re mostly waiting on developers.

“Basically, we’re dependent on Development Cost Charges and any grants that we can access like Community Works,” he says, noting that 2013/14 project “was a lot of money for I think, a functional, but not an ideal kind of outcome at all.”

For multifamily and commercial / industrial developers, Development Cost Charges are paid at the building permit stage, says District of Peachland CAO Joe Mitchell. The Development Cost Charge bylaw identifies projects the District anticipates as growth occurs, with money going into water, parks and roads-dedicated funnels.

“And so if the project is entirely due to development, like we wouldn’t even need this road if the development didn’t happen, then it would be entirely funded from the DCCs, and we would just wait until we get enough in the pot to build whatever it is. If it’s something like sidewalks that the current taxpayers will definitely take advantage of and it’s useful to the existing residents, and it’s also driven by development, then it would be funded partially by DCCs and partially from some sort of either non-DCC reserve or a grant.”

Mitchell says the District also has a Community Amenity Contribution policy, and the DCC bylaw is updated every five to ten years.
“And what that does is we can identify – and usually it’s 20 years out – what projects will happen and then we create what the DCC price will be for developers.”

Developers that face roadways must also pay for frontage improvements, and the requirements depend on what’s in the District’s development services bylaw for the type of road.

“So, if it’s a residential road, that standard is different than Princeton, which is one of our arterial roads,” says Mitchell. 

“For some roads the developer will be required to put in a sidewalk, others it’s just gravel, a curb and gutter, there’s all sorts of different standards.”

He adds the District tries to piggy-back on work being done by developers.

“We try and take advantage and maybe add a curb and gutter or something (to a sidewalk project), to extend it, if it makes sense. And that would probably come out of non-DCC reserves or a grant that we would have. We try to take advantage when the roads are already dug up – we’ve already mobilized the engineer, we mobilized the contractor, so we will get better pricing on that. So until we can get enough in our DCCs to fund a larger project, we’re trying at least to piece some of the smaller ones together to create a good network for walking.”

Mitchell says the District aims to have some sort of sidewalk construction in Peachland within the next year or so. It’s also part of councillors’ strategic plan.

“It’s definitely something we’re trying to put together for the end of this year, or in 2021 to have some sort of sidewalk added because we do understand that’s very important to the community.”

ALSO READ:  Jan 9, 2021 From here to the highway? A successful grant could mean a sidewalk up Trepanier 

So in general, sidewalk construction is a slow go in Peachland, the District’s financial planning documents reflect this,

Light at the end of the tunnel under Hwy 97. Made it 😉

and as everyone here has alluded to, the projects depend a great deal on development. Future road development projects (which include sidewalk construction) are among what’s identified as being in need of funding in the District’s yearly Financial Plan, but those projects are also subject to change (and the bigger ones are carried over year to year).

Take the Somerset – Princeton intersection as an example. It’s under the capital plan for 2022, at a total cost of $2.2 million. A little over $1.7million of that is suggested to come from DCC reserves. Another example is a planned upgrade of Princeton Ave from Ellison to Turner. It’s currently in the 2030-2039 capital plan, potentially funded by a combination of DCC (about $800,600) and non-DCC contributions, to the total tune of almost $1.6 million. And that’s at today’s pricing. In the more immediate future, the 2020 financial plan has a developer-funded “pedestrian safety” project mentioned as a possibility for Ponderosa Dr. The expected developer contribution is just south of $74,000.

One project that’s suggested for partial DCC funding dates back to the District’s 2011 Sidewalk and Pedestrian Connectivity Plan. A proposed walkway improvement along Beach Ave between 13 St. and Todd Rd is also mentioned in the 2020 financial plan. The project currently has a $1.3 million price tag, with $670,000 coming from DCC reserves.

It’s a project far from certain, says Keith Fielding, and both he and the Mayor mention opinion is divided, for a few reasons.

“It’s a concern for some people that Beach Avenue gets all the attention. Trepanier and Ponderosa, both could benefit from sidewalks,” says Fielding.

“Also, a lot of people don’t want to see a sidewalk there, they like it as a natural stretch.”

Fortin says personally, she’s opposed to the project – and there’s a bigger picture to consider.

“Roads and sidewalks and developments are the top issues we deal with. And I know people bring up, ‘we’ve paid our taxes for 20-some years.’ But money from taxes year after year doesn’t accumulate in a big pile that we put in a safe somewhere to address an issue on the roads. Every year, it goes towards services and we’re always maxed out. For cost of living alone, we have to increase taxes. So, even if someone has been paying for 50 years, the money is just not there to put in expensive things like sidewalks.”

Mitchell says the plan for Princeton includes an eventual full buildout with a cycling lane and at least a sidewalk on one side.

“Obviously with that comes some significant cost and so some of that is developer-driven and some of that is resident-driven,” he says. 

“We just don’t have enough in the the developer contribution pot yet to go ahead with the project. With that said, it’s still a project that is very important and as soon as development does occur, and I’m thinking some of the larger projects like the Ponderosa golf course project and New Monaco, as soon as some of those start bringing in DCCs, we’ll be able to move ahead on some of these projects. If you look at our historical financial plans you’ll see that a lot of these projects have already passed, we’ve bumped them back a couple years, anticipating that growth will occur at some point.”

Ask any Peachlander, and “at some point” could mean a long time, or it could mean not at all. We only need to look at the empty – yet fully serviced street at the abandoned Tabletop development, or what should be a functioning golf course in Ponderosa. 

“I’m a resident here too and I’m really frustrated with some of these developments,” Fortin says.

Fielding says in addition to waiting on developer contributions, setting up a specific sidewalk improvement reserve fund could be explored, if fellow councillors had an appetite for it. And perhaps the municipality can explore the creation of trails that link up to existing networks, in addition to sidewalks being a priority. He adds the District didn’t always require developers to contribute to sidewalk construction.

 “Developments happened all over Peachland, but there was no requirement to build sidewalks with them and I suppose at the time the idea was well, the more development we get, the better, and we encourage it. It was less rigorous a process. But now, developers are required through their DCCs to contribute that way.”

So, as I complete my walk (about 40 minutes and happy with my decision to walk downhill and not up,) I’m already thinking of what to ask developers – past and present – about their work in Peachland. What exactly are they contributing, and if they didn’t, what happened, and when will we see the results of their contributions? That, my readers, is what I plan on finding out next.

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Written by Kristen Friesen

July 3, 2020

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