Hall St. alley closure creates controversy

Co-op Radio likes the closure but has lost its handicapped access. Across the alley, building owner Ross Lake wants it re-opened.

Kootenay Co-op Radio volunteer Richard Metzner points out the barrier placed in the alley beside the station. The station supports the alley closure but is unhappy about losing its handicapped parking and loading area. Across the alley

Two Nelson businesses Kootenay Co-op Radio and Bibby Orthodontics as well as the owner of the building in which Dr. Kathryn Bibby is located, are not happy with changes to the grade and level of the west side of the 300 block Hall St., which they say have taken away their handicapped parking. In the first of two parts we look at the alley beside the radio station.

Since the reconstruction of Hall St. as part of the city’s Stores to Shores project, the alley that heads west from Hall beside Kootenay Co-op Radio has been closed off because, after the new paving, the finished level of the street is about two feet higher than before, making the entrance to the alley very steep.

City manager Kevin Cormack said the original plan, long before construction started, was to close the alley because of the steepness of its entrance. Then, after some feedback from businesses, the plan changed. The result, once construction was underway, was a surprise: the street was almost two feet higher in front of Co-op Radio.

“Then, when we saw how steep it is, the question came up: does it make sense to keep the alley open, or should it be closed for pedestrian safety?” said Cormack.

At a meeting this past summer, city council decided on a trial closure until spring 2016.

Ross Lake, who co-owns the building on the south side of the alley whose tenants include Dr. Bibby, and which supplies underground parking opening onto the alley, doesn’t like the closure.

“It is absolutely not workable,” he told the Star. “We met bylaws and requirements when we renovated the building and put in underground spaces and now we are accessing [the parking] by a one-block, one-way access in a 16-foot alley. Waste Management [commercial garbage collection] has a hard time getting into the building.

“The thing most discouraging for me is that in the planning meetings for Hall St. there was a proposal, a year and a half ago, that it be closed. Then there was an agreement to show that alley access would be open. I think nobody knew what the situation was.”

Co-op Radio has always wanted the alley closed.

“The alley has always been dangerous,” said station manager Jay Hannley. He explained that a few years ago the city installed two concrete barriers so northbound cars turning in to the alley in the winter would not skid into the building. Those were removed during street construction this year.

“It has always been dangerous for pedestrians. We have a lot of seniors who are programmers, we have handicapped people, and there were always access problems for them. And we get dirt and rocks thrown at the building as cars go up.”

But access is now worse. Hannley said that during construction the city took away the station’s wheelchair ramp that led into the alley, so the building is now not wheelchair accessible.

And he said there is now a no-parking sign on the side of their building where people used to park temporarily as a passenger drop-off and loading area.

“There is no handicapped parking for this building now,” he said.

The radio station’s operations manager Terry Brennan thinks a good compromise would be to have a sign that says handicapped parking only.

Brennan said cars parked temporarily beside the radio station in the extreme east end of the alley do not block access to underground parkers in Lake’s building. But Lake said cars parked there impede the garbage truck as it backs out of his underground parking area.

Richard Metzner is pleased that the city has recently put a step on the curb for the many Co-op members who park in the lot across the street. All photos by Bill Metcalfe.

If city council decides in the spring to re-open the alley, it is likely Kootenay Co-op Radio would lose much of the city-owned open area in front of the station because vehicles coming up Hall St. would need that space to turn into the alley.

Hannley said that patio area is used by people walking up the hill as a rest stop.

“When people walk up from the lakefront the station is the halfway point,” he said. “We have chairs and a bench. This is a thousand per cent in line with the city’s whole idea of a pedestrian friendly walkway and having places to stop on the way up the hill.”

Phase one of the Hall St. project extends north to Lake St., except for the half block on the west side of Hall between Co-op Radio and Lake St. Re-development of that section has been held in abeyance until phase two, next year.

In part two we will examine how grade changes on Hall St. have caused a similar problem further up the street in front of the office of Bibby Orthodontics.