The small parking area at Ball’s Beach has been closed due to safety issues, despite a plea from interim CAO Sheldon Randall for time to study the situation and report back to council.
With a home on the water, just across from the parking spaces, Robin Ridesic told councillors last week she considers the area a “serious safety concern.”
She has four children who love the new beach and sand bank, now that the shoreline preservation work has been completed, but she and some of her neighbours are afraid the small area that is meant to provide three parking spaces “is an accident waiting to happen.”
Since the work was completed and the area reopened, the use of the beach has increased, but the parking space reduced, she said, and it’s no longer a safe environment. There is also a need for accessible spaces, she added.
She asked councillors to temporarily close the parking area until a full assessment can be made and a safe solution found.
In addition to families who enjoy using the beach, it is also used by fishermen and those who want to unload and load their kayaks or paddleboards. The constrained space for vehicles reversing creates a very unsafe place for children and pedestrians, she told councillors.
She suggested those who want to park should be directed to the municipal lot on River Beach Drive, beside the condominiums at the corner of Melville Street — a parking lot that looks like it’s private and belongs to the condo units, she said. There is a simple solution to that, she added — putting up a sign that says it’s a public lot.
With the winter coming, Ridesic suggested nobody will be dropping off kayaks for the next six months, giving the Town staff time to come up with a permanent solution that aligns with the secondary plan for the dock area and the transportation master plan.
When asked for examples of accidents in the parking area, Ridesic said she has heard the screeches of vehicles from her waterfront deck, and her heart drops “every time, fearing it’s a child that’s been hit, but so far she knows only of damage to vehicles hitting nearby poles and armour stone.
Virgil resident Joseph Sitko also addressed council about the parking issue. He uses the parking area regularly to unload and load his kayak, and isn’t happy about the suggestion that he should park about 100 metres away. He was also concerned that the decision was made to close the parking lot at council without input from more residents who use it, suggesting there should have been some advance notice, and an opportunity for more residents to provide options.
He thanked council for “the good construction down there. I’ve never had a sand beach to launch my kayak from and retrieve it.”
He’s been using the area at the beach for the last two decades, he said. “I imagine the park and small parking lot have been there longer than most of the residents in the area have lived there.”
He mentioned the dock area secondary plan, which encourages keeping the beach open for fisherman and recreational uses, and suggested instead of closing the parking lot, town staff should gather data from a traffic engineer and come up with “the right decision” for the long term.
If the experts say it’s a safety concern, then a solution as suggested by an engineer should be expedited.
Sitko said he sees one car in the parking lot regularly, in the mornings, with a senior couple having their coffee, doing their crossword puzzles and enjoying the beautiful view.
“Where are they going to go now to enjoy that view?” he asks.
Randall told councillors town staff get a lot of calls from residents who feel certain roadways or situations aren’t safe, and staff study the situation, collect data, and make recommendations to council. They have received “zero reports and zero data” to back up the assertion that the Ball’s Beach parking area is unsafe, and blocking it off will make it more difficult for emergency access. “There are other issues to consider,” he said. “We don’t have data to back up closing off that parking area.”
He asked instead for the time to allow staff to gather the data, investigate how to make the area safer and report back to council “to make an informed decision.”
Couns. Erwin Wiens, Gary Burroughs and Allan Bisback all voted against the motion to close the parking area for six months while staff investigate options for safe and accessible parking. The motion also included allowing for some parking on the south side of River Beach Drive, and that signs be posted on the lot beside the condos to tell people it’s a municipal parking lot.
Those opposed to the motion said they are against making planning decisions “on the fly,” with no input from experts to say whether or not the parking lot is a safety concern.
“This is not going to make it safe,” said Erwin Wiens, asking the recommendations be sent back to staff to look at options for making it safe, inclusive and inviting.
Bisback also said he has a problem with making decisions without having the expertise to know if it’s safe or not, and suggested if there is a concern, town staff should be directed to expedite their investigation.
Burroughs said the area should be looked at as a whole, with long-term planning for the future.
But others, including Coun. Sandra O’Connor, were unwilling to take a chance on the safety of those using the beach, and voted for immediate closure.
Sitko said he rode his bike to the park late last week, and the parking lot was already closed.
“How are residents who use the beach going to know it’s closed until they get there?” he asked.