Strathmore has recently seen a lot of revitalization projects and construction to beautify, maintain, and expand our town. Ranging from projects like the Westridge Road revitalization to new shopping centres, our community could see some big upgrades.
While parts of the town see these upgrades, some businesses feel it's not fair that only parts of the town seem to see their tax dollars put to work. Several business owners in the Orchard Park industrial area are frustrated seeing money poured into projects all across town, except for their area.
"I don't think we're a big concern for them. I see how much they do on the other side of town, which is nice because I live on the other side, but they have to remember how much taxpayer dollars come out of this side of town too, and it would be nice if we get a little bit of something back," said one anonymous business.
"There's so many other businesses that get forgotten about back here. And we do pay the same amount of taxes that everybody else does in this town, and we get less."
This business isn't alone in feeling this way. Several businesses said they felt they weren't getting the infrastructure they need, including things like:
- more street lights/lighting
- improved internet
- consistent landscaping/maintenance
Landscaping was a common issue brought up by several businesses, as they feel there isn't proper lawn care or maintenance.
"Just because it's an industrial area it doesn't mean that we can't make it look good. The ditches should be clean, it should look half decent out there."
A lack of sidewalks was one of the biggest issues presented by all the anonymous businesses. Not having a designated space to walk can be annoying, but it could also be a huge safety issue, especially in the winter.
"In winter people have to walk in the ruts that the vehicles make on the road which turn icy, so if people are walking in them and a car comes and it has to put on its brakes cause maybe it's going a little bit too quickly, somebody is going to get hit or somebody is going to get hurt unless they jump into a snowbank or ditch," said another anonymous source.
While the town understands some of the frustrations, the Town of Strathmore's Director of Infrastructure, Operations, and Development Services Jamie Dugdale explained a project like adding sidewalks isn't as simple as it sounds. He explained that large-scale construction projects will often try to do underground and surface area work at the same time, since this is the most efficient way to use tax dollars. Orchard Park's underground infrastructure is still in good condition, so there may not be any big projects there in the near future.
A sidewalk would also create a lot of other questions. For example, how would this impact the ditches, which are meant to drain water? Will a new underground drain system need to be installed as well? While there are many questions that would need to be addressed, Dugdale said they are working on their transportation master plan, where they will look to make the entire town more accessible.
"We want to look at that (the transportation master plan) as an integrated plan, both vehicular and pedestrian transportation. Historically, transportation master plans have looked at vehicles only, but we want to look at the whole picture."
As for the safety concerns raised, Dugdale said the town takes everyone's safety very seriously. While a new sidewalk won't be coming in the immediate future, he wants to work on alternative ways to improve safety and address these concerns.
"Perhaps something we can look at in the interim is some operational type solutions from our snow clearing group. Is there a way we can widen that a little bit to have a walking lane?"
Another issue raised was poor internet, which severely affects some businesses. This is something Mayor Pat Fule has seen first hand, as he explained he went to a business in the area, and poor internet resulted in the debit/credit systems crashing. Fule said he hears the concerns and the town has taken notice, which is why broadband internet is part of the town's strategic plan. Since the town isn't the internet provider themselves, Fule said there is only so much they can do, but they are working to bring good internet to the entire town.
"Broadband will be something that we address throughout the town, and this will help Orchard Park's businesses as well."
While the town does have plans in place to address some concerns, many business owners still feel they aren't being listened to.
"The town makes surveys and then still just does what they want. I don't think they listen to what the people are saying."
This feeling has resulted in several businesses leaving town and even more considering leaving, according to some.
"I know that a lot of businesses are feeling the same way. And then I wonder, how is Strathmore supposed to survive if the town won't support the businesses?" said one source.
"Right now, if you're driving up and down these roads, we're losing a lot of businesses. There are more and more empty places now. It was never like this, and I don't know if people are leaving because of taxes or whatever the reasons are," another source added.
Fule noted he hasn't heard any formal complaints so far this year, but he encourages everybody to do so. He said all the projects done so far are a direct result of community feedback.
"Based on input from the business community on Westridge Road, we've just done that road with landscaping to improve it, and that came directly from a couple of business owners asking. Our focus can start to include Orchard Park based on what Jamie (Dugdale) was saying about the different plans we're formalizing and working on."
Fule stressed the importance of communicating with the town, as he wants all businesses to thrive, not just one area. He added that when the town hears concerns, they do their best to address them.
Some examples of this include:
- Increasing RCMP patrols in the area after hearing from business owners about safety concerns. Theft and breaking and entering went down 25% over the last 5 years.
- During the engagement process for Westridge Road, Fountain Tire needed an area for bigger trucks to safely make turns and stop on the side, so the town designed the road wider.
- Also during this engagement process, Strathmore Motor Products was concerned that trees around their business could hide them from sight, and evergreen trees specifically could get sap and branches on the cars. So there aren't a lot of trees in the area, per the business's request.
- A service road being repaired within one year after hearing about it during a coffee with council session.
While Orchard Park industrial area business owners may continue to feel frustrated, Fule and Dugdale both hope that they know their concerns are now being heard, and would love to hear directly from business owners to work together to find solutions. Sometimes, it may not be the answer they want, but communication is still important.
"We can't always give people the answer we want, but we do listen and consider those things," Dugdale said.
While some of the big concerns like sidewalks and lighting won't be addressed in the near future, the town hopes that more communication can help resolve some issues.
Ways businesses and residents alike can communicate with the town is through the Citizen Communication Form, attending open houses and informal sessions like coffee with the mayor, or directly contacting them through their phone or email.
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