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Liability concerns raised over Barnwell development

Posted on September 4, 2019 by Taber Times

By Greg Price
Taber Times

There was a packed gallery at the Village of Barnwell’s August meeting as village liability concerns were voiced at a public hearing before the Porter Torrie Area Structure Plan bylaw was given third and final reading.

The proposal is an 18 lot residential subdivision on lands legally known as Lot 13, Block 1, Plan 0713622 and portions of the southwest of 201917.

Stephen Evans, a senior transportation safety specialist who has presented at a number of conferences with published articles opened conversation with the public hearing, having also dealt with motor vehicle accident litigation.

“There’s an accident where there is significant injuries or fatalities, I’m often brought in to do a cross analysis on the details to see if there were special kinds of factors that may have been involved,” said Evans. “In that role, I often work with insurance companies and lawyers. In these investigations, we often find that by design, or condition or maintenance of the road, or a lack of signage or lighting or any of those types of factors become a factor.”

Citing legal examples in the municipalities of Durham, Peterborough, and Edmonton of lawsuits where municipalities were deemed not to use due diligence.

Evans’ concern with the proposed development is with 3rd Avenue, a road that is six metres wide where it is tight with two cars passing each other.

“Almost all the roads in Barnwell are either wider and/or have signage. There’s currently almost approximately 40 children living along 3rd Avenue East. It’s surprising there are that many kids there. It works because most of the houses have children and it also works because it’s a dead end road and you have less and less houses and less and less and less traffic,” said Evans. “If the proposed subdivision development goes through, will it accommodate the extra vehicle and pedestrian traffic for at least 18 new houses which it was never intended to do (the road design).”

Given the increased vehicle and foot traffic on the narrow road in question for the subdivision, Evans noted with motor vehicle accident litigation, due diligence comes into scope.

“It talks about the care a reasonable person or reasonable organization is expected to exercise to prevent accidents and prevent harm. In my experience, I can’t help but wonder that the village may be at risk for being named in litigation if an injury/accident occurred along that narrow part of 3rd Avenue East,” said Evans. “Particularly, if it is determined that allowing that increased volume of traffic in the new subdivision into an inadequate and inappropriate road.”

Evans’ suggestion was that a sidewalk be put along 3rd Avenue East as part of a link for the approval of the subdivision.

“One other option would be to look into the possibility of access to the subdivision from the west side of the division and therefore, not have to feed into the narrow part of 3rd Avenue East,” said Evans.

Barnwell councilor Robin Hansen disputed Evans’ claim the road in question where the development will happen is the smallest in Barnwell.

“There are three other roads that are the same size in Barnwell, and with no sidewalks, and they also carry a lot more traffic than that one does,” said Hansen. “There is a possibility that if you think the road is not wide enough that we allow no street parking. If people park there, it definitely shrinks the road — that’s another possibility.”

Diane Horvath, planning advisor for Barnwell, noted there was no way that in the Torrie development is there going to be a way to negotiate road widening with five other landowners on it.

“While it is a consideration, it may be beyond the scope of this particular development. It is may be something council is going to have to consider in the long-term planning, construction plans over the next five to 10 years is about how you go about upgrading not only this road, but perhaps the other substandard roads. It is an ongoing issue that again, isn’t something that is going to be solved by this developer,” said Horvath. “Discussion about coming out west to Heritage and 1st — those again are through private properties. One land owner can’t force another land owner to develop. It’s something for council to consider, the reasonableness of what is being proposed and the amount of traffic that will be generated based on probably single dwelling units that will probably be there.”

Mayor Del Bodnarek inquired to Horvath if looking into widening the road in question and allowing the Torrie development were two separate issues.

“Council has to make a determination in the current situation, if there is comfort around the table that in the interim, that you are willing to assume the risk of additional traffic being on that road space based on its current condition,” said Horvath.

Hansen added council looks to the safety of all children, and apart of whether council would approve the Porter Torrie Area Structure Plan bylaw or not, would look into building a sidewalk if it came to that, on the side apart from the TID easement that prohibits any type of asphalt involved in the development in question.

“My role here was sort of two-fold. Obviously I’m a resident, but I’m here primarily here as a transportation expert to ensure council was aware and it was mentioned before, there is some risk of a lot of extra traffic on a road that by base standards is substandard,” said Evans. “That was my role today, was that council is fully aware, then when you make a decision, there is going to be some risk. Whether it gets addressed as part of, in tandem, later, that’s a decision council will have to make. My concern is it has to be addressed because there’s a lot of extra traffic, a lot of extra pedestrians. In that proposed development, they all have come tracing through the development and out 3rd Avenue East. There will not only be a lot more cars, but a lot more pedestrians.”

The extra traffic may seem extreme by some, but Horvath added the overall scope is matter of perception.

“For a village, 18 lots is a great amount of lots and traffic, for a town or a city, this is a very small, low impact development coming out of there,” said Horvath. “I appreciate for residents that live there, any additional traffic is additional traffic, but the size and scope — 36 additional cars, two per lot, two trips a day, that’s not a significant amount of traffic. It’s about perception and how it impacts. There is an issue that speaks to the width of the road and the need of a sidewalk, and it sounds like they need that whether this (development) comes or not, so I’m not sure if this is the tipping point. Perhaps it is the catalyst that has brought it to council’s attention.”

For councilor Ian Matheson, the term ‘due diligence’ is misunderstood and misinterpreted by many. Where due diligence is not just exercised by the courts, but families as well when it comes to personal safety.

“I would suggest it is partially due diligence of the parents of those kids. Teaching those kids how to use the roadway, how to walk when there is no sidewalk,” said Matheson.

After discussion was closed for the public hearing by Mayor Bodnarek, council approved unanimously the Porter Torrie Area Structure Plan Bylaw 05-19. Deputy Mayor Deb Hansen was absent.

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