PEI

Charlottetown's Kent Street project at an impasse, fire department says it doesn't meet fire code 

Plans to revamp a downtown Charlottetown street have hit an impasse after the city’s fire department ruled the proposal could get in the way of firefighters. 

'It hasn't been explained to us clearly what it is that makes it unsafe'

Heidi Zinn, executive director of Discover Charlottetown, says her group has been doing everything it can to address the department’s concerns. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Plans to revamp a downtown Charlottetown street have hit an impasse after the city's fire department ruled the proposal could get in the way of firefighters. 

Discover Charlottetown wanted to install overhead cables, which would run along Kent Street between Great George and Prince streets in the city's historic downtown.

Lighting and other objects would hang from the cables, with the decor changing every season.

The overhead art installation is part of a remake of the street, which includes a new hotel, restaurants, cafés and bars.

Heidi Zinn, executive director of Discover Charlottetown, says her group has been working with the fire department, doing everything it can to address the department's concerns. 

But, she said, all of a sudden the department said it could not support the project. 

'That really caught us off guard'

"That really caught us off guard, because we thought, why are we going back, why are we revising plans only to be told that it couldn't go ahead," said Zinn.

Lighting and other objects would hang from the cables, with the decor changing every season. (Discover Charlottetown)

"So we were really frustrated of course and very confused especially since we see these types of projects happen not only all over Atlantic Canada, and all over Canada, but all over the world so what makes us different that this can't happen in a safe way?" 

Charlottetown council voted unanimously to support the project, even agreeing to take over the art installation, maintaining the display and changing it every season. 

The $150,000 project is funded by all three levels of government, with most of the money coming from the federal government. 

Kent Mitchell, fire inspector with the Charlottetown fire department, said Discover Charlottetown was able to address some of its concerns but in the end, he said it does not meet the fire code.     

"Basically, it comes down to if there is an emergency of any type that our aerial apparatus is able to operate without any obstructions at all so that's our biggest concern about the project," said Mitchell.

"We tried to work with the group on this project but we haven't been able to see a resolution that would make this project a go."

Private engineering firm hired

Zinn said her group has tried to address the concerns of the fire department. 

Kent Mitchell, fire inspector with the Charlottetown fire department, says the project does not meet the fire code. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Initially, the overhead cables were going to be attached to the buildings.

Zinn said in response to concerns they agreed to attach the cables to steel columns rather than directly to the buildings. 

Discover Charlottetown also agreed to remove some of the cables, to provide a clear path for ladder trucks, increased the height of the display to 18 feet and installed the lighting with quick release mechanisms so they can be taken down quickly in an emergency.

But the fire department wouldn't budge.

So, Discover Charlottetown hired a private engineering firm, RJ Bartlett Engineering of Fredericton, to review their plan.

'Hopes of finding a solution'

In its report, obtained by CBC News, it said the concessions made by Discover Charlottetown "would satisfy" the National Fire Code.

The overhead art installation on Kent Street is part of a remake of the street, which includes a new hotel, restaurants, cafés and bars. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

The city already has an overhead light display on Sydney Street. 

Mitchell said those lights went up without consultation with the fire department.

"To my knowledge, I don't believe there was a formal proposal to the fire department on the Sydney Street installation."

The city said it's still hopeful a resolution can be found.

"The city corporation is continuing to review the matter in hopes of finding a solution that permits the Kent Street lighting project to go ahead while also addressing any and all outstanding safety concerns," it said in a statement. 

'Makes it unsafe'

"The city remains hopeful that this project will go forward, and we will continue to work with all parties to hopefully find a solution."

The city already has an overhead light display on Sydney Street. (Tourism PEI)

Zinn said she too hopes the project can go ahead. She said she wants the fire department to clearly spell out what needs to be done so it can move forward.

"It hasn't been explained to us clearly what it is that makes it unsafe beyond it just being an impediment to fire which you could say power lines are an impediment to fire, lamp posts are an impediment to fire," said Zinn, noting there are a number of other projects in the hopper that may be impacted by this blanket ban on overhead displays. 

"To have a blanket statement that anything overhead in a city is an impediment to fire is a little bit dangerous in itself." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wayne Thibodeau

Prince Edward Island

Wayne Thibodeau is a reporter/editor with CBC Prince Edward Island. He has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and video journalist in print, digital and TV for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Wayne.Thibodeau@CBC.ca

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