Back in the early 2000s, Marc Peck thought city engineers had come up with a way to deal with some of the growing traffic noise that was starting to make his backyard unbearable.
Peck lives on Meadowoak Crescent and his back lot line abuts the north side of Oxford Street W., about halfway between the CN rail bridge and Hyde Park Road.
Since he moved into the Huntington subdivision in 2001, he says the traffic noise has steadily grown. In the early 2000s, the city was planning to widen that section of Oxford Street W. to four lanes.
At the time, Peck remembers feeling encouraged that the road-widening project included plans for a modern, 2.5 meter noise blocking fence to be installed between Oxford and the backyards along that strip.
The plan was to replace a wood and stone pillar fence that had been installed on the properties’ backyards when the subdivision was built in the late 1990s.
Today, in 2020, Oxford Street W. is wider and much noisier due to the road widening and an extension over the Thames River that connects the Oxford with other points west, including Kilworth, Komoka and Highway 402.
And while the noise-reducing fence was installed along most of that strip of Oxford Street W., it stops at the house immediately to the west of Peck. From there, there’s a gap in the new noise barrier that extends about 350 metres east from Peck’s house to Guildwood Avenue.
On those properties the original wood and stone pillar fence is still in place.
“What prompted them to stop at our property?” Peck said in an interview with CBC News. “We never got an answer to that question.”
So what happened?
Some of what happened is explained in a staff report that went to a council committee in January 2006.
It says city engineers were keen to replace the existing wood fence with a modern, 2.5 metre-high Durisol-brand noise barrier.
Removing the 350 metres of fencing and replacing it with a more modern noise barrier would cost the city around $500,000. Because the existing wood fence is on the homeowners’ property, it would also require homeowners to sign a legal form giving city crews temporary legal permission to access their property to do the work.
According to the city report after three notices were sent out, only 24 per cent of affected homeowners had signed and returned the forms.
The report also said the existing wooden fence meets the city standards of a noise attenuation wall.
“In this case residents with an adequately functioning noise wall were presented with an opportunity to get a new more expensive wall at no cost to them, but did not fully cooperate with the City to enable the project to proceed,” wrote staff.
“This left the City with the choice of paying additional cost to the residents to secure the property for work that only benefited their adjacent property, or cancelling the work.”
The report said expropriation of the needed pieces of property would be costly. Also, it said building the new noise barrier in front of the old fence would create a narrow space between the two that would complicate maintenance and could be a hazard to children and animals.
So council opted to pull money for the newer noise barrier from the project’s budget. Oxford Street W. was widened in 2006 and properties along that section didn’t get a new sound barrier.
Neighbours want fence revisited
Susan Einwiller bought her home at the corner of Oxford Street W. and Guildwood Boulevard in 2007 after Oxford Street was widened. She says since then, traffic noise in her backyard has increased steadily.
“It’s louder out here all the time,” she said. “It’s getting so you can’t have a conversation out here.”
Einwiller hopes the city will consider replacing the old wooden fence with a Durisol sound barrier, as it did in other areas along Oxford. She believes the city would have no problem getting access permission from home owners now, given the growth in the traffic and noise.
“It’s never too late to fix the problem,” she said. “I hope that they’re willing to revisit it and see what we can do now.”
Peck says the details about the access permissions were not well communicated in the mid-2000s.
“I filled my forms in, I said yes, and I still didn’t get the new sound barrier,” he said.
Also, the original wooden fence, now more than 20 years old, is starting to show its age. In a few spots homeowners have propped it up with lengths of angle iron, nylon straps tied to trees and new wooden posts with lag bolts.
Einwiller has reached out to Ward 8 Coun. Steve Lehman about the issue.
Lehman told CBC News city staff are often reluctant to build or deal with fences on private property.
“Their concern is that it would open the door to maintaining private fencing across the city at considerable taxpayers’ expense,” he said in a text.
“I am exploring options to see if there are extenuating circumstances regarding increased traffic in this particular area.”
Like Einwiller, Peck believes taking a second look at the sound fence makes good sense.
“It would make a huge difference to the enjoyment of my backyard,” he said.