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Public Laneways Aid Walkability Whitby Weighs Pros and Cons

June 30, 2015
Edward LaRusic

Whitby council will decide today whether the benefits of creating public laneways for new subdivisions are worth the cost of maintaining them.

While Whitby has private laneways, it currently does not have any public laneways. And the decision as to whether to start encouraging public laneways has caused a rift between the planning and development department and the public works department. Planning and development staff says operating and maintaining public laneways is worth the cost for small residential subdivisions. The public works department says the costs are too high.

“It’s trying to provide walkable streets, manage parking and create a pedestrian environment,” said planning and development commissioner Robert Short. “[Public laneways] reduce that obstacle to create a more walkable transit supportive community where sidewalks aren’t interrupted by driveways, and sidewalks can become a more public space. It also provides more parking than the traditional small-lot townhouses, [where parking is] on the street and on the property.”

Without a rear laneway, said Short, parking spaces and garages need to be located at the front of residential units where they can interfere with the sidewalk. With developers wanting small lot frontages, this can constrict or outright remove on-street parking, leading to cars spilling onto the sidewalk as they try and fi t within the driveway.

Short noted that developers are not huge fans of private laneways for condominium developments as they require complex agreements to ensure the laneway is maintained.

“We’re saying that we should be giving favorable consideration to public laneways from a planning perspective as we move forward.”

But acting public works commissioner Brent Rice told NRU that his department does not support the idea.

“Our primary concern is the added costs for both the operating and capital side of [public laneways].”

There are a number of proposed plans of subdivision in what is known as West Whitby that could be designed for public laneways. Public works staff is estimating the annual costs of maintaining those laneways, over and above the cost of maintaining the public roads, is between $100,000 and $350,000. The number fluctuates depending on whether snow can simply be plowed or must be physically removed from the laneways.

“What we’re trying to do is to keep the tax impact as low as we can, for the residents. No one’s interested in raising taxes, and we’re always being asked to do more with less,” said Rice. “We’re simply looking at costs that we see are associated with laneways, and want to make sure that council is fully aware of those costs when it makes its decision.”

Whitby council will make its decision at a special council meeting today.

Mayor Don Mitchell and Planning and Development Committee chair Regional Councillor Lorne Coe declined to comment.