Cobb: Infill builders are cutting up our roads and we’re paying for it
Infill development, a significant contributor to the city’s property tax coffers, is a booming business. Properly done, it can enhance an aging street and blend respectfully with the existing character of an established neighbourhood. Properly done, infill is constructed by developers who respect and communicate with neighbours and who do their best to minimize disruption and destruction.
While some developers and their sub-contractors do quality work in just such a respectful manner, infill development in parts of Ottawa is now a free-for-all.
The ongoing carve-up of public roads is a prime example and although residents and councillors in rural and suburban wards have been traditionally indifferent to the inconveniences of urban infill, they, too, are ultimately contributing to paying the road repair or replacement bill.
Kitchissippi ward, which includes Champlain Park, the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital, Mechanicsville, McKellar Park and Westboro, accounts for more infill and intensification than all other urban wards combined.
Ward councillor Jeff Leiper says high on the list of complaints he hears about infill – and he hears lots – is the routine damaging of public roads by developers who typically buy and demolish older houses, then build two, three or four replacements on the same piece of land.
There are hundreds of examples throughout Kitchissippi – and other areas of urban Ottawa –of trenches being cut through roads and refilled in a slap-dash manner, leaving behind a crumbling bump or a dip on previously flat, well-engineered roads.
They are ugly to look at, uncomfortable to drive over and constant jolts to the body for cyclists – not to mention the danger to those on two wheels.
For a particularly egregious example, travel north along Roosevelt Avenue in Westboro, cross Byron Avenue and Richmond Road and journey to the transitway bridge. Almost the entire section of road has been reduced to potholes and rubble by a succession of sloppy road cuts. And this is, allegedly, one of Ottawa’s most desirable neighbourhoods.
Relatively new major thoroughfares aren’t immune either.
Older properties along Churchill Avenue, one of the newer jewels in the Ottawa city road system, are in the crosshairs of developers and cuts are already slicing the road, pedestrian sidewalks and bike paths.
The Churchill reconstruction cost taxpayers $21.4 million. It was finished less than four years ago.
Here’s what the city’s bylaws say about road cutting:
“Upon completion of the temporary surfacing, or permanent reinstatement of the road cut, all excess material shall be removed from the area of the road cut and the area shall be left in a safe, neat and clean condition, similar to the condition of the highway area adjacent to the road cut, all to the satisfaction of the General Manager.”
That’s the law, not a request or a suggestion.
According to Linda Carkner, the city’s Program Manager of Right Of Way, contractors must provide a bond of $2,500 for each cut. Larger contractors with multiple projects on the go are required to deposit $25,000 to $50,000.
Road cut permits carry a three-year warranty after which the city returns the contractor’s bond – if all the work has been completed, presumably to that “general manager’s” satisfaction.
That’s the law but it isn’t being enforced, partly because the sheer numbers of cuts and refills make it physically impossible to enforce. However, street excavators – there is no shortage of them to ask – have told me that some city street inspectors are more diligent than others. It’s the diligent ones who are more inclined to call them back and get the roads returned to the state demanded by the bylaw.
When a road is cut and refinished, even on the relatively few occasions it is done perfectly, the lifespan of the entire road is shortened.
Prior to amalgamation in 2001, the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton charged developers an additional, non-refundable fee based on a formula that included the age of a road. The city discontinued that cash collection but reinstating it in some form would seem like a sensible option. Either that or impose a significant increase in the deposit.
At the very least, bylaws should be toughened, and should include methods to ensure developers and their subcontractors comply fully and completely with the law.
And those who don’t should be made to pay, so the rest of us don’t have to.
Chris Cobb is an Ottawa writer.
Cobb: Infill builders are cutting up our roads and we're paying for it