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Yates Street neighbours at odds over public access to path

Residents of a recent development on Yates Street who want a walkway connecting Yates and Johnson streets closed to the public are at odds with their neighbours in a nearby building who say it’s an important mid-block access point.

Residents of a recent development on Yates Street who want a walkway connecting Yates and Johnson streets closed to the public are at odds with their neighbours in a nearby building who say it’s an important mid-block access point.

Chard Development agreed to construct a public walkway as part of a development permit issued in 2017 for a mixed-use residential building at 848 Yates St. It was intended to expand on an existing path at an adjacent property at 836 Yates St, with an agreement in principle with its owner, Coronet Ventures Ltd.

Coronet installed unauthorized gates in March 2019, blocking public access to the walkway on its property for “security and crime prevention,” says a report going to councillors today.

With the space closed, the intended pathway would narrow from almost six metres to 1.22 metres. Chard is now applying to the city for permission to limit access to the walkway on its property to residents only due to the limited space until the city can reach an agreement with the adjacent property to create a wider path.

The public is currently locked out of accessing the walkway on the 848 Yates St. property as well as the adjacent property.

Holly Vivian, who lives in a building at 834 Johnson St. that includes owners, renters and supportive housing units, said locking the public out of the promised mid-block pathway triples the distance residents must travel to reach a well-used bus stop on Yates.

For Vivian that’s an inconvenience of several extra minutes, but for the many people in her building who have mobility challenges, “it’s a much bigger deal to lose that access,” she said. As a member of the strata council she has heard from residents that the lack of public access to the path has had a significant impact on their lives.

“It’s also important not just for people with mobility challenges, but for everyone in the community to be able to permeate it. If you have big really, really long blocks and people can’t get through, it really isolates neighbourhoods,” said ­Vivian, who has lived in the Johnson Street building for 10 years.

The Chard development replaced a parking lot, where residents could easily cut through, Vivian said.

City staff echo the need for mid-block pedestrian paths in a report recommending councillors decline Chard’s request to limit access to residents only. They say the walkway is valued by nearby residents and the city has received complaints.

“Allowing the gates to be closed during daylight hours would create a fortress-like appearance and have a negative experience on the streetscape for pedestrians,” the report says.

The Downtown Residents Association supports maintaining public access as promised by the developer, saying in a letter to council that mid-block ­pedestrian paths are “key to building livability” in the d­owntown area.

“The developers of both properties made commitments to provide this small but significant public amenity and the community expects the city to ensure that it is fully executed and upheld as proposed,” said Ian Sutherland, chair of the association’s land use committee.

In a letter to residents of the new development, its strata council expressed concern that maintaining public access to the narrow walkway creates a safety issue and health hazard, citing “COVID outbreaks happening across social-housing facilities making social distancing ­impossible”

Michelle Dunham, who owns a townhome in the new development, is worried there’s not enough space for people to pass each other on the walkway, which is confined by patios on one side and a gate on the other.

She said she’s concerned about what would happen if there were a conflict in the small space.

“If somebody tried to grab you or grab your bag or whatever, like there’s nowhere to go. You’re just confined in this really tight space,” Dunham said.

If councillors decline Chard’s request to close the walkway, city staff suggest working with both property owners to reach an agreement on a joint walkway.

In a December 2019 letter, Coronet president John Newton told Chard his company would not grant access to its property to construct a shared path. Newton was not available for an interview Tuesday.

Byron Chard, CEO and president of Chard Development, said the company is committed to building the intended walkway available for public use when the city reaches an agreement with Coronet Ventures on the adjacent land.

They don’t believe the current walkway is an appropriate width for two people to pass each other safely, he said.