Colin Chisholm, Hants Journal, July 08, 2015
WINDSOR – The Underwood Drive/Road debate reached a boiling point at a special session of council on July 7, with over 40 residents attending the meeting to see how council would proceed with the proposed road closure.
Council approved the recommendation in the staff report to turn the end of Underwood Drive into a cul-de-sac. The move would block a potential connector that a local developer wants to build to connect Underwood Drive to Underwood Road, which is in West Hants.
But, before council closes the road, the town will have a public hearing where citizens can share their thoughts. No final decisions have been made for Underwood Drive yet, council says.
Although the special session of council wasn’t a public hearing, many people shared their views before council passed the motion.
Patrick Watkins, a Windsor resident who lives on Underwood Drive, is worried about a potential hook-up to Underwood Road in West Hants.
“Nothing has changed from the meeting we had here that I spoke at previous in 2006,” Watkins said. “We left here quite happy that things would stay as they are.”
Watkins said many of the same concerns about opening Underwood Drive in 2006 still apply today.
Many of the commenters were concerned about the road connection leading to more traffic on the street.
Colleen O’Brien said when she moved to Underwood Drive several years ago, she liked the quiet atmosphere and doesn’t want that to change.
“We’re not against economic development, we’re not against connecting the town with the municipality,” O’Brien said. “We just want our neighbourhood to remain safe.”
Others were in favour of connecting the two streets, saying it would improve access to the hospital and high school for residents.
Jonathan DeMont, a Windsor resident and business owner, understands the concerns some residents have, but would like to see more connections made in the community.
“This community needs less borders,” DeMont said, adding that he would welcome amalgamation or dissolution.
“I don’t think closing off Underwood Drive forever is the answer. I think access at some point is going to be wanted by residents who may want to visit friends or family at the other side.”
‘There was always a wall’: mayor
Mayor Paul Beazley said this is not a new issue; this type of dispute has been happening between the town and the municipality for decades.
“We tried to get things done through the joint planning committee, but the reality is, we had a joint planning department, but two separate plans, and they were not coming together,” Beazley said. “There was still that border there. There was always that wall.”
The town and municipality have both drafted studies on the area, one dating back to 2007, and the other to 2013; both recommended Underwood Drive and Underwood Road remain separate.
Those reports did recommend connector roads on Cole Drive and Payzant Drive. Both councils approved the principles of the 2013 report.
“It doesn’t mean it’ll never be opened up; it just means that it’s not the right time to open it up,” Beazley said.
“It doesn’t solve the problem by any means, the only way to solve the problem is to find a solution that works for everybody. It’s going to take some investment on all sides and it’s going to take some creative thinking between the CAO’s, the developer, council’s and a willingness to come together.”
Beazley said council’s motion July 7 now puts the debate in the public process.
Chief administrative officer Louis Coutinho said Brison has access to his land now and will continue to have at least some access should it become a cul-de-sac.
Coutinho said the mayor and council were made aware a couple of weeks ago that Mitch Brison, president of Brison Developments, was intending to remove the guardrail at the end of Underwood Drive himself.
“It gives us no option but to formally close the street and put curb and gutter, and if need be, at a future date, we could open it again,” Coutinho said.
Coutinho said he also received a letter from West Hants CAO Cathie Osborne saying the municipality hasn’t changed their policy or opinion on the Underwood issue.
Caught in the middle: Brison
Brison, who is as the centre of the debate, says he’s caught in the middle between two municipal units that don’t get along.
“I think people are finally starting to get an understanding of what the true story is here,” Brison said. “It’s kind of like a divorce: the town’s portraying one hard stance, the county’s portraying another hard stance, they’re both telling me they’re willing to co-operate, and I’m wondering when that starts happening.”
Brison said he was disappointed town council passed the motion, adding that he plans to “keep pushing” on his end.
“I think it’s a waste of money, going through the construction to close it,” he said. “The main problem here is that we have two municipal units that don’t get along and, as a business man, I’m tired of it.”
Brison said he will still remove the guardrail to access his land if need be.
“If the Town of Windsor refuses to give me access to my land, they’re not going to deny me access to my property,” he said. “I fully understand that I can’t open the road up to go straight through and I have no intentions of doing that.”
Brison says he doesn’t have permission from West Hants or Windsor to connect Underwood Drive to Underwood Road and won’t make the connection on his own. But, he does say he wants a way to access that side of his property.
“Anywhere else I do business, they would make me hook those roads up,” he said.