Main image: The Town’s director of operations and protective services, Steve Hernen (top right) shows councillors a screenshot of a revamped Kent Park design, which was approved by council at its April 29 meeting, with the addition of an elevated stage or seating area.
At its electronic meeting held April 29, Huntsville Council voted in favour of a design option for a redeveloped Main Street (from Lorne Street to the swing bridge) which would see parking in the downtown decrease by approximately ten parking stalls and certain parts of the sidewalks widened.
The options presented to council were in response to two public meetings, focus groups and a survey which resulted in 150 responses—mostly from downtown merchants, according to Huntsville director of operations and protective services, Steve Hernen.
“There were some clear answers that came out of the survey and there were some stuff that we didn’t get clear direction on and hence the reason we’re back again with some design options,” Hernen told council.
He said respondents were asked what was more important to them, whether it was pedestrian traffic or parking and vehicle flow, and said the response was pretty evenly split.
One of the options presented to council would have increased parking from the existing 70 to 73 stalls with parking along both sides of Main Street and three-metre-wide sidewalks, while the other, and the one chosen by council with a slight modification, would see parking decrease to about 60 stalls in exchange for staggered ‘bump-outs’ or widening parts of the sidewalk, primarily from West Street to Brunel, in order to provide more room for pedestrians and event space for downtown businesses.
Hernen said flex-parking at a $1.3 million price tag was discussed. It would have involved bollards that could be moved out during the busy summer season to widen sidewalks and allow for downtown patio space, and in winter, when it wasn’t as busy, the bollards could be moved back to create more parking. “The interesting comment was that if we want to take all our parking spaces [out]during the busy season, why are we going to such an expensive option of flex-parking. Why don’t we just expand the sidewalks where needed… and leave it that way,” said Hernen, adding that all options before council, including the redevelopment of Kent Park, were coming in at an estimated budget of $2 million.
“I know originally we were thinking it would be higher in the $3 million range but it’s looking in the $2 million range which would give us additional funds if we wanted to look at one of the other parking lots to create additional parking downtown, but that would be a council direction and decision,” added Hernen.
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe said he preferred the option involving the bump-outs but suggested that the bump-outs could be decreased on the north and south side of Main Street at the King Street entrance to River Mill Park, which could add additional parking to downtown from the initial 58 spots proposed under that option. Council concurred.
“I quite liked the idea of having bump-outs in front of potential restaurants who might put a patio out and for those on the north side, they also have patios already overlooking River Mill Park. Some of the logic on that I thought was very good,” noted Deputy Mayor Nancy Alcock, adding that Muskoka chairs could be placed where patios are not an option in order to give people a seating area.
“I recognize we’re losing parking but I think people will say we already don’t have enough parking downtown,” she said, adding that if that option is estimated at $2 million, parking could be found elsewhere. “We might be able to find other parking solutions nearby and that would be my hope that we would look for parking solutions on one of the back streets nearby, but I think that this is a really good compromise solution.”
Others echoed support for that option. “I like the jut-outs and I know we lose a few parking spots but the fact that we’re not putting bollards in… then maybe we have some money to buy some property to make some more parking close to the downtown, and that would be my preference,” said Councillor Bob Stone.
“I also agree option C, I believe, is the best option right now but I like Councillor Wiebe’s suggestion,” said Councillor Dan Armour, referring to adding some more parking spots in close proximity to the King Street pedestrian walkway to River Mill Park. “If we could find some property in the back that we could purchase for some extra parking and direct people that way, I think that’s a really good compromise.”
Other features involving the downtown makeover include a revamped intersection at Main and Centre streets, which Hernen said will ease traffic congestion with a right and left turning lane. “You’ll be able to come down Main Street, if you will, heading west, come through the intersection. If a car is turning left, it will not back the traffic up like it does now, you’ll have an opportunity to come around it and continue down,” he noted. Hernen also said the Brunel intersection would be enhanced.
Large trees, soil cells, and light posts would become a significant feature of a redeveloped downtown Main Street, he added. “We’ve heard clear [sic] from the BIA that they want to hang banners off them [light posts], that they want power supplies on them. Not only do they want a functional light but they want the stand to be part of the furniture so we can have good hanging baskets hanging off them and we don’t have to worry about the structure of the light poles.”
Where to put a crosswalk between the two intersections along that stretch of Main Street was discussed at length. Councillor Tim Withey wanted to see two crosswalks—one at King and one at the west side of West Street by Pharmasave but council was told that the engineers would not support two crosswalks between two intersections—the one at Brunel and the one at Centre Street. In the end, council voted in favour of situating an AODA-compliant (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) crosswalk on the east side of Main and West streets.
Council voted in favour of removing the hard surface proposed in Kent Park in exchange for a greener periphery with a large gathering area in the centre and an elevated stage or seating area suggested by Councillor Stone to be located along the side of the park backing onto the businesses along Brunel Road. The parking stalls in the park would be removed. The previously proposed water feature for Kent Park has been dropped along with the Lorne Street gateway to the downtown because Hernen said those who responded to the survey were not overwhelmingly in support of those items.
Kent Park would also include three access points. “So if somebody did want to come down they could walk right through the park if they wanted to,” said Hernen, adding that the park would remain open space and street lights would be placed around the park for safety.
Hernen noted that the original design option for Kent Park had more paving stone in it at a cost of approximately $500,000 and the new design, approved by council, would now cost approximately $400,000.
“We’re strictly at the design stage and it’ll be September when council makes the final decision if this project is a go for next year, in consultation with the District, or whether the project is put on hold. So, we’re nowhere near that stage, we’re just trying to complete the design,” said Hernen.
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