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A question of ‘life and death’: Safety concerns prompt seniors to request Windsor, West Hants work together to solve road connection problem

Jim Vacheresse, the president of The Crossing's social committee, loves living in The Crossing — he moved from Sackville in 2014 — but feels it could be an even better experience if the senior housing community had more than one way in and out of the development.
Jim Vacheresse, the president of The Crossing's social committee, loves living in The Crossing — he moved from Sackville in 2014 — but feels it could be an even better experience if the senior housing community had more than one way in and out of the development. - Carole Morris-Underhill

GARLANDS CROSSING, NS - Residents of The Crossing in West Hants love living in the quiet, tight-knit retirement community.

Surrounded by landscaped lots, the residents know their neighbours, regularly engage in joint outings and participate in activities like outdoor lawn sports, community parties and potlucks.

But, there's one thing that would help them sleep a little easier at night: they want a second roadway built to access the development.

Jim Vacheresse, the president of The Crossing's social committee, recently launched a petition aimed at creating a secondary access road to the senior citizens' development. While the residents would prefer a permanent road, he said they would settle for a gated emergency access road that can be used by paramedics, RCMP officers or firefighters.

Vacheresse is passionate about the community he calls home — spend an hour with him and you'll meet several neighbours. He wants everyone to feel safe and confident that they can get help when they need it.

“We've come to recognize a number of our residents are in a more frail condition than others — not as strong, need assistance in various situations,” said Vacheresse.

Along with his wife, Jacqueline, Vacheresse volunteers to help neighbours who require a little more assistance due to medical conditions. He has keys to several homes and has assisted with five ambulance calls in the last year or so. He often drives people to get prescriptions and groceries.

But, on March 4, a motor vehicle accident occurred near the entrance of The Crossing around 2:10 p.m. The car involved in the crash knocked down one of the street poles and the road was blocked to traffic while the scene was cleaned up. That incident made the residents realize just how vulnerable they are in The Crossing.

“Because of that incident, we realized that fire and emergency services can't get in,” he said.

Vacheresse said he fears what could have happened if there had been a medical emergency at the same time.

“I have a bad heart. I had a heart attack a few years ago. I'm on medication and I'm very careful with what I do or do not do,” said Vacheresse, adding that a lot of seniors living in the park have pre-existing medical conditions.

“We're not a 'young' subdivision. Our needs are greater than the typical subdivision, if you want to put it in that light.”

The Crossing, owned and developed by Mitch Brison, is billed as Atlantic Canada's premier lifestyle community. It's aimed at attracting retirees and empty nesters looking to 'right size' their homes and remain independent. The retirement community offers a selection of mini park homes and semi-detached properties. While most are for sale, Brison Developments has branched out and offers some rental units.

Underwood Road connects The Crossing to the rest of West Hants. Underwood Drive, located in Windsor, is a stone's throw from The Crossing development, but a barricade was installed by the Town of Windsor to prevent vehicles from crossing into town limits.

Support for the idea

It didn't take long for residents to start signing the petition — there are 134 signatures to date. Just six people that were approached didn't sign it, with their main concern being an increase in traffic.

“They're entitled to their personal opinion,” said Vacheresse, adding there are ways to address those concerns.

And, he added, there is traffic on every street.

“No matter where you put the access road, there's going to be traffic. It doesn't matter. There's traffic on every street. You adjust. If it bothers people, we can put speed bumps in, stop signs in, we can slow the traffic down,” he said.

Lucianne Wies relocated to The Crossing, a West Hants seniors community, about seven years ago. She hopes that by signing a petition, Windsor and West Hants councils will work together to devise a plan to connect The Crossing to Windsor.
Lucianne Wies relocated to The Crossing, a West Hants seniors community, about seven years ago. She hopes that by signing a petition, Windsor and West Hants councils will work together to devise a plan to connect The Crossing to Windsor.

Lucianne Wies and her husband, James, relocated to The Crossing about seven years ago from Eastern Passage. She hopes that by presenting the petition, Windsor and West Hants councils will finally work together to devise a plan to connect Underwood Road and Underwood Drive.

“I just think it'd be safer to have two exits in case of an emergency. If one road gets blocked, we need another access to get out in case of emergency,” said Wies.

Her husband has experienced medical issues recently, so the need for more than one way into and out of The Crossing has become quite evident to Wies.

“My husband is almost 80. He's had two strokes and a heart attack in the last three months. If there was a problem with access, that could be life or death,” she said.

Nora Spears, who moved to The Crossing with her husband from Lower Sackville about five years ago, recalls seeing a man walking around the community, taking notes. Spears said he was surveying the site to see if a secondary access road was warranted.

“That was three years ago. Look how it's built up since then,” said Spears. “There's 135 homes; there was 50 when we moved in.”

Spears said she's not stuck on where the access road is located; she just wants to see one installed sooner, rather than later.

“I think a lot of us who have moved in here are here for the long haul and we want to be comfortable, we want to feel safe,” said Spears, noting a lot of residents are relocating to West Hants from across the province, Newfoundland, Ontario and Alberta.

Getting to the heart of the issue

A second access road could also have a positive impact on the time it takes for first responders to reach people in The Crossing.

“The hospital is just over the hill and yet the paramedic says it takes them 10 to 12 minutes, depending on traffic, to get around here to get in to where the home is, where it could be four or five (minutes),” said Vacheresse.

He said when time is of the essence, every second matters.

“I'm 80 years old. I've already had one heart attack. If I took a stroke, three, four, five minutes or so from the time of a stroke... that's the ideal time to save that person's life,” he said. “That's the difference between having the road (connected) over the hill or driving around the street. That's life or death and that bothers the bejeebers out of me.”

Vacheresse said he's not criticizing the first responders — he says the “quality of service is awesome” — but he would like to see the time it takes to arrive in The Crossing reduced. One way of ensuring that is connecting Underwood Drive to The Crossing.

“How are we hurting the Town of Windsor by connecting the streets to them?”

Vacheresse said connecting The Crossing, which is located in Garlands Crossing in West Hants, to the Town of Windsor has been a sticking point for years.

“There was always talk, ever since we came here, of opening the two roads to get access,” said Vacheresse.

And it's a struggle that he says doesn't make any sense.

Like many residents, he attended a meeting held at the Hants County War Memorial Community Centre in Windsor in 2015. The opposition that The Crossing residents received from Windsor was surprising and disheartening, he said.

“I wouldn't call it hatred, but animosity, would be a good word I guess,” said Vacheresse, noting The Crossing residents contribute to society, frequenting Windsor businesses whenever possible.

READ MORE:

• Kerfuffle over Windsor-West Hants road connector frustrates developer

• Date set for public hearing on Underwood Drive dispute in Windsor

• Windsor council approves Underwood Drive closure

Long history

In 2015, Brison, who owns the development, said he was going to tear down the guardrail on Underwood Drive, which is in the Town of Windsor limits, and build a connecting street to Underwood Road, which is in West Hants, as he was tired of all the bickering between councils.

The Town of Windsor opposed this and closed off Underwood Drive, making it a cul de sac and installing a wooden fence.

“The integrity of residential streets in the Town of Windsor must be protected from unplanned intrusion related to uncoordinated and poor planning practices by developers and others,” a report prepared for Windsor councillors in 2015 read.

Throughout 2015, the councils of the day threw barbs back and forth over the issue. Although many new councillors are now in place, the roads remain disconnected.

“The fact that the two municipal units can't get along well enough to fix it is basically, in my opinion, an embarrassment for the area,” said Brison in a phone interview March 28.

He has been trying to link the communities for about eight years.

“We have a hospital that has one access. We have a school that has one access. What would happen if you had a fuel truck upset at the end of Payzant Drive, or a really bad accident and the road was blocked and you couldn't get to the hospital? They can't even co-operate enough to put emergency gates up,” said Brison.

A straight-shooter, Brison said the battle between the municipal units makes it a “very hard area to do business” in, which he believes hinders residential growth.

While Brison is hopeful the citizen-led petition will net results, he doesn't know if it will.

“The only reason it hasn't been opened is because there's absolutely no co-operation,” said Brison of the Underwood Drive/Road issue.

“Every time we get even close to having a few glimmers of hope that we're going to have some co-operation, it's 100 per cent shut down by the town.”

Vacheresse remains hopeful the petition will have a positive outcome.

“When you're talking about the difference between life and death, there has to be more than a political reason behind it. I can't accept that,” said Vacheresse.

For him, opening the road up to traffic is a no-brainer.

“I'm hoping that common sense will prevail,” said Vacheresse.

“I wouldn't want to be able to say (to) the mayor of Windsor or the warden of Hants West, if there's a death here, 'you're responsible.' I wouldn't want that. I wouldn't want that hanging on my shoulders either,” he said.

About eight feet of unpaved land separates the Town of Windsor from the West Hants community of The Crossing. The majority of The Crossing residents want to see this impasse opened up.
About eight feet of unpaved land separates the Town of Windsor from the West Hants community of The Crossing. The majority of The Crossing residents want to see this impasse opened up.

Next steps

According to the Municipality of the District of West Hants' subdivision bylaw Future Streets Conceptual Plan, there is a proposed collector street that would connect Cole Drive to The Crossing site and then connect to Payzant Drive, in Windsor, after the Underwood Drive and Burgess Crescent subdivisions.

That same map indicates there's a proposal to lengthen Payzant Drive, with the proposed street exiting on Highway 1 shortly after Tonge Hill Road.

A planning staff report dated Nov. 12, 2013, by then-senior planner Karen Dempsey, indicated that the map was conceptual in nature but would “serve as a general guideline to assist planning staff and developers in determining where best to locate future street connections as development proceeds in the Garlands Crossing area over the next 10 to 20 years.”

The report notes that many of the future streets and connections “will only become possible over the long term under a fairly aggressive rate of development.”

Coun. Randy Hussey presented The Crossing's petition to council for consideration in early March. The municipality's chief administrative officer and the director of planning were asked to look into what can be done to create a second exit from that area.

On March 27, CAO Martin Laycock confirmed staff will be examining the issue.

“I have a meeting with the director of planning next week,” said Laycock. “We're reviewing all the related data and we're going to see what options we have available to us.”

Warden Abraham Zebian said council is waiting for the information report to decide the next steps.

“It's not a quick issue to resolve,” said Zebian. “There was a situation that happened a few weeks back. It just compounded the residents' want for something to change. Council will wait until staff brings back some information and we will see where we proceed from there.”

Windsor CAO Louis Coutinho said in a brief email statement that connecting to Cole Drive, which was recommended in the future roads plan — a plan that was agreed to by both councils in 2013 — may help solve the issue at hand.

“The future roads plan identifies a connection to Cole Drive. This would be a good permanent solution,” he wrote.

He also questioned if an emergency access gate was installed by Brison Developments near Avon View High School, as he believed that was a requirement of the original development agreement.

The Municipality of West Hants approved an amendment to the development agreement in 2013, allowing Brison to construct a total of 149 dwelling units before a gated emergency access would be required. The report notes that the Windsor Fire Department's chief, Scott Burgess, was satisfied that adequate fire protection could “be provided with the amending agreement outlining what triggers the requirement for an emergency access to be built.”

The Windsor Fire Department is no longer the development's primary fire service provider. The development now falls under the protection of the Brooklyn Fire Department Station 2 in Three Mile Plains.

The requirement for Brison to construct a second access road was also removed from the land lease community agreement.

West Hants' Future Streets Conceptual Plan shows there is a proposed connector street running from Cole Drive to The Crossing and then to Payzant Drive.
West Hants' Future Streets Conceptual Plan shows there is a proposed connector street running from Cole Drive to The Crossing and then to Payzant Drive.

Did you know?

There have been two separate traffic studies examining the roadway connections between Windsor and West Hants.

A Future Streets Map, which was adopted in 2012 by the Town of Windsor, is often referred to as the Isenor Report.

West Hants was not in agreement with the findings.

West Hants hired Griffin Transportation Group Inc. in 2013 to carry out a traffic study of the Garlands Crossing/Windsor border area.

That study was presented at a joint council meeting in June 2013, and the report contained a recommendation on the layout for future roads. This was approved by both councils.

A border committee was then tasked to develop a framework to implement the future road plan.

When communication became strained and eventually broke down between the town and county, so too did the work of the border committee.

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