Hamilton

Dundas residents fuming over fence that's blocking a public alley

The fence appeared overnight, residents say. And so far, the city refuses to remove it.

City confirms it's reviewing an offer to purchase the land, but residents want it to stay public

"People are not giving up," says David Jones of the community effort to get the fence removed. (David Jones, publiclaneway.ca)

Residents in a Dundas neighbourhood are fuming after a local homeowner built a fence across a well-used public alleyway and appears to have turned it into a private driveway.

People just woke up one morning and there it was.- David Jones, Dundas resident

And even though the land doesn't belong to him, and hasn't been for sale, the fence is still there. The city says it has no immediate plans to remove it.

The public laneway has connected Alma Street to Victoria Street since at least 1857, said David Jones, one of the residents fighting the fence.

It's in the Cross-Melville heritage district, and a popular thoroughfare for pedestrians, cyclists, and families walking from daycare at Knox Presbyterian Church to St. Augustine school.

And even though the resident built the fence over public land, effectively blocking the route for everyone else, the city has let it remain, he said. Current city rules mean he may be able to buy the property for $2.

The city says it's an unassumed alleyway, which means it only does emergency maintenance, not fence removal. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Now irate residents are climbing over it, and more than 200 have asked the city to remove it.

"This is public land," said Jones. And "he just went ahead and did it.

People are not giving up. It is a public laneway today.- David Jones

"People just woke up one morning and there it was."

Jones said Len Medeiros, a local developer, built the fence after buying a house on Sydenham Street. The laneway runs alongside the house, and appears to double as a driveway.

Medeiros and his wife own L. M. Enterprises, and have renovated the ward's historic post office, as well as developed other properties in Dundas, says a 2014 Metroland article.

"People just woke up one morning and there it was," says Jones of the fence. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Contacted Thursday, Medeiros said he didn't have time to talk about the issue, so for now, has no comment.

The city says the alleyway is unassumed, which means it only does maintenance on it for emergency reasons, such as fallen tree branches, spokesperson Jasmine Graham said. Removing a fence wouldn't qualify.

"We have not removed the fence because the city does not perform maintenance or other operational activities on unassumed alleyways," she said.

Graham confirmed that the city got an expression of interest in buying the land earlier this summer, but wouldn't give details. There are various fees related to applying to buy city land, Graham said. But the nominal fee for an alleyway adjacent to residential properties is $2.

Local children have drawn on the newly paved portion of the laneway with chalk. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Corridor management staff are reviewing it, and if it's a viable offer, it'll go to city council's public works committee. 

Comments on the offer to buy were due by Aug. 4, and that's when Jones and others collected more than 200 signatures from people who want the alleyway to stay public. Although it's not clear, even if the land wasn't sold, if the city would act to see the fence removed.

Jones said his group is forming a delegation to fight the issue if it makes it to public works committee.

The alley from Alma Street, showing the original gravel. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

In the meantime, the fence remains. A nearby resident had written "Illegal fence" on it in chalk on Thursday. Some local children had drawn flowers on the Sydenham Street portion — which Jones says appears to have been paved around the time that the fence went up — and wrote "Public alley."

"People are walking up the lane and being frustrated that the fence is there," he said.

"Some people are climbing the fence. Those of us who are a little older are not climbing the fence."

But "people are not giving up. It is a public laneway today. Collectively, the neighbourhood is going to continue asserting its right to the area."

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