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Richmond Hill apologizes for poor communication on Church Street drainage project

Officials to meet landowners individually to customize project details
June 21, 2021
Yoyo Yan

Richmond Hill city officials have unofficially acknowledged their lack of communication with Church Street South residents over a proposed drainage project, and promised to meet landowners face to face one by one for customized solutions.

The city said on its webpage of capital projects that it has undertaken a storm water management study and engineering design to improve existing drainage on the east side of Church Street, between Major Mackenzie Drive East and Roseview Avenue.

The proposed work includes raising the elevation of the east boulevard within the city right-of-way to contain the heavy storm flows within the street.

Construction will include grading, new topsoil and sod, new concrete sidewalk and new asphalt within affected driveway limits. The driveway limits will extend a few metres onto private property to achieve a favourable slope, according to the city.

The public right-of-way, also known as municipal road allowance, includes the roadways, sidewalks and a section of land used for utility services.

On a residential street, this usually means that the section of the front lawn closer to the roadway is publicly owned. However, the section of the lawn closer to the house is owned by the homeowner.

That is why Andrea Tuley and other Church Street landowners became infuriated when they learned that an engineering solution has been tendered and the awarded contractor is scheduled to work on their private properties in June without consultations or resident permissions.

After rounds of email exchange, Mohammad Kashani, the city's design and construction manager, and Kyle Paterson, infrastructure delivery project manager, finally felt the heat and called for an on-site meeting with Church Street residents on June 8.

"When does the city plan to actually communicate to the residents involved? Under what authority does the city have to undertake work on private property?" Tuley interrogated the city officials.

"We were angry because we were missing all the information," said Paul Miller, a Church Street resident for 35 years.While attending this meeting, Ward 2 Coun. Tom Muench was interrupted and dismissed by at least three residents when he was attempting to offer his explanations.

In fact one resident told Muench, "I am not talking to you, you are here to listen to us."

Kashani and Paterson, though, resorted to an apologetic approach, when they admitted the absence of proper consultations and promised to bring project plans and documents to each home for individual negotiations.

Miller's major concern is flooding. "The grade from my front entrance is currently higher than our driveway, and after your proposed project the driveway will be higher than our front door. Naturally we are concerned there will be flooding into our front entrance during major rainstorms."

Tuley worries the project could damage the roots of her 100-year-old heritage tree, an American elm survivor. "We request that the town arborist certify that our tree will not be impacted by this project, as it is adjacent to a driveway that you will be modifying."

The project, now slated for July and August, is part of the city's infrastructure improvement to prepare for 100-year storms.

Affected driveways are to be replaced by permeable pavements and the current brick sidewalks are to be replaced by concrete.

"We are losing the village look," one resident said.