This story originally appeared in the Vaughan Citizen.
A deteriorating concrete fence that backs onto Hwy. 7 divides more than just property, as local residents and city hall are split on who should foot the bill for repairs.
The roughly six-foot noise barrier wall that runs along Hwy. 7 between Pine Valley Drive and Ansley Grove Road has been deteriorating for years.
Domenic Paglia, a Longhouse Street resident whose back yard backs onto the fence, has been seeking help since 2005.
The fence repair is a regional issue, since it backs onto Hwy. 7. York Region insists it is built on private property and refuses to get involved.
But Mr. Paglia, a retired construction worker, said he simply cannot afford to repair the fence without taking out a mortgage. He said two portions of the fence have already collapsed and many more are close. He estimates that replacing his portion would cost at least $20,000.
“I’m 71, I don’t work, I live on a pension, and I’m supposed to put another mortgage on my shoulders?” he said.Repairing the fence himself is not an option due to his bad back.
The fence was built as a condition of development and is now more than 20 years old. It’s designed to minimize noise pollution from busy Hwy. 7 and also to provide privacy for the homeowner.
Mr. Paglia says the fence’s state of disrepair has affected his quality of life.
“I have no privacy, plus there’s too much noise,” he said. “We don’t feel comfortable.”
Mr. Paglia’s wife, Giuseppina, feels the region doesn’t want to get involved because of the financial outlay.
“They don’t want anything to do with it, they say it costs too much,” she said. “They’re not taking it seriously.”
York Region policy states all noise barriers adjacent to regional roads are to be built on private property.
The subdivision agreement which residents are subject to when purchasing property, dated Apr. 5, 1988, states that maintenance of noise barriers, fences, and patio enclosures is indeed the responsibility of the lot owners.
But Mr. Paglia and his local politician, Woodbridge/Vellore Councillor Bernie DiVona, feel that salt runoff from heavy traffic on Hwy. 7 has contributed to the premature degradation of the fence. Mr. DiVona says the fences are meant to last roughly 25 years, but started showing signs of erosion around the 17-year mark.
“An investigation clearly shows that the salt spraying from Hwy. 7 has resulted in the premature deterioration of the fencing,” he said.
As a result, Mr. DiVona believes in a joint responsibility and feels the region should pay at least 50 per cent of the costs.
“The question now becomes, do you do what’s morally right, assume responsibility for bad maintenance, or do you just wash your hands of it?” he said.
Mr. DiVona made two deputations in 2005 and 2006 which provided petitions and requests from residents asking for the region to provide financial support. On both occasions, regional council refused to consider a cost-sharing agreement or accept responsibility for premature damage.
Mr. DiVona maintains that a 2006 York Region study found evidence of salt runoff contributing to premature degradation. But Paul Jankowski, York Region manager of roads, said he was not familiar with the study.
The Citizen found significant erosion on both sides of the fence, but could not distinguish if the damage was more severe on the side facing Hwy. 7.
Mr. Jankowski said it is the region’s responsibility to keep roads safe and the application of salt cannot be avoided. He says even when Councillor DiVona raised the issue of salt runoff, council decided not to get involved.
“Regional council has considered this issue in the past and has consistently maintained that the responsibility for those fences remains with the property owners,” he said.
Mr. DiVona says the region is practicing flawed logic. He feels it’s unreasonable to expect a resident to climb a six-foot fence to wash the other side.
“How can you maintain something you will never see?” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. It may make bureaucratic sense, but it lacks moral foundation.”
Mr. Paglia’s Regional Councillor, Gino Rosati, said he is not prepared to make a deputation to regional council because he already knows their answer. He took the issue to the transportation committee and received a staff report that offered little prospect of the region getting involved.
“I really, really wish I could do something,” he said. “But regional council has dealt with this issue on a number of occasions and they’ve always said no.”
Mr. Rosati said he feels there should be a 50/50 responsibility, but the region has found no justification to enter into a cost-share agreement.
Now, the only option the residents face is to pool their money together and hire a private contractor to repair the fence in its entirety. Mr. Rosati said this would be significantly cheaper than fixing individual lots.
Mr. DiVona feels a reserve fund would benefit the entire community because it would beautify the neighbourhood. As of now, the fence has been repaired by residents with a variety of different materials and colours and looks fragmented.
Mr. DiVona says that in his experience, regional council has been “terrified” that if they get involved in the repairs, it could set a precedent which would make them have to fix every deteriorating wall in the region. A project of this magnitude could cost up to $40 million.
Despite this, the region has put up wooden braces to keep sections of the wall from completely falling down.
“When you have to put up emergency braces up to hold up a fence on your own property, what you’re saying is we’ll assume the most minor responsibility, but no other responsibility,” Mr. DiVona said.
Mr. DiVona said even if the region ignores the issue now, as the city gets older hundreds of fences will be in need of major repairs or replacement.
“It’s one of those issues that people like to put on the back burner and hope it will go away,” he said. “But it’s not going to go away.”
Mr. Rosati said he will hold a meeting this month to discuss options with residents affected by the issue.