He had already been concerned, but September 12 was the day when the Chebucto road-widening project literally arrived at Joe MacDonell's front door.
"I don't have the figures in terms of square footage, but from what we were told, the property line would come right up to our front step," he says. MacDonell's property, which sits on the north side of Chebucto, had never been implicated in the widening project since he moved in last February.
That changed on September 12, when the city presented residents with a second plan to facilitate a new reversing lane on Chebucto—a plan that would not involve the tearing down of any buildings. It would, however, involve installing up to seven reversing lane signals along Chebucto, similar to the red-and-green arrow indicators along Macdonald Bridge. It would also involve the disappearance of MacDonell's front yard.
"I was told by one of the engineers that it wasn't likely was coming to the north side of the street, back in June," he says. He estimates he could lose eight feet of property should the city's plan come to pass.
MacDonell has cause to be bitter, but he's quick to steer the conversation away from his personal circumstances. "There are bigger issues here, more than us and even more than just our neighbourhood. It's about planning this city with quality of life as a priority for people in the HRM."
City planners placed special significance on Chebucto this week by imposing an October 31 deadline on property owners. The city gave residents two options to facilitate a new lane—one that would take land only from the south side of the street and another that would take less land per property, but would spread the land grab to both sides of the street. Rather than endorse either of the disappointing options, the Chebucto Neighbourhood Association simply let the deadline pass.
"October 31 is their day," says neighbourhood association president Kevin Moynihan. "We refused to make the decision because we felt it was like a schoolyard bully thing. We felt like they pitted one side of the street against the other. We'd rather take option three."
That, says Moynihan, could involve adding bike lanes, a Metro Link bus, conducting a pedestrian safety study on the effects of another lane of traffic—"They've never done one"—and, at the very least, a motion of recession to delay the project by one year.
So, without a decision from residents, how will the city proceed? According to Dave McCusker, manager of traffic and transportation for the city, the project will move forward, with or without endorsement.
"We'll make a decision on the alignment and proceed," he says. "The process of property acquisition will begin right away." In that scenario, the city will make the home owner an offer based on the market value of their property—both for the piece of land the city would need for the project and for resident's entire lot, and the property owner is obligated to accept. It's "hard to say" exactly when home owners, like Joe MacDonell, will see a concrete offer for their homes.
But it's coming. City engineers have said it would be cost effective to break ground on the project by next spring, which would require settling with property owners ASAP.
"The process of property acquisition is quite a daunting task," says McCusker. "It's difficult to predict how long that might take. Right now, we can't commit to starting work .
"But, that certainly would be beneficial."
MacDonell hasn't heard much about when or how the city might try to take his front lawn—part of a "conspicuous lack of details" given to residents, he says. In the meantime, he, his wife and his two step-children, who reside on Chebucto, are looking into a legal defence that might save their property. He also can't say whether or not the project, if carried out, would cause him to move out of the neighbourhood—"I really hope it doesn't come down to having to make that choice." Meanwhile, the neighbourhood association continues to gather signatures on an anti-project petition at keepitlivable.org.
"This project will have an unprecedented degree of impact," says MacDonell. "There have been other street widenings, but not like this. They're going to pillage this neighbourhood."