The Sisters of St. Joseph convent at 574 Northcliffe Ave. in Dundas. – Craig Campbell /Torstar
Hamilton traffic operations staff will review the intersection of York and Newman roads and report back to city council to address additional bus traffic created by the approval of a temporary student residence in the former Sisters of St. Joseph Convent for at least 96 residents.
The motion, introduced by Coun. Arlene VanderBeek, and approved by council on Friday, July 12, also directs staff to consult the Transportation Ministry, which owns part of the intersection and Newman Road and must approve any municipal permit applications near Highway 6.
The city approved the temporary-use application by Columbia International College to convert the 574 Northcliffe Rd. convent into a student residence for up to three years, while the college pursues an anticipated two-year effort to get approvals for a 1,000-student Columbia school in the building. Applications for amendments to the Niagara Escarpment Plan, Parkway Belt West Plan and former Town of Dundas Official Plan required for that long-term school proposal have yet to be submitted.
Six bus trips a day for the temporary residence through the York-Newman intersection was not the major issue. But residents of the approximately 33-home neighbourhood, whose only access is that intersection, are worried about more than 40 buses for the proposed school.
The ministry reviewed a traffic safety brief for the temporary residence plan and reported no concerns, nor any need for intersection improvements, but has not yet reviewed the long-term school proposal.
“We have no safety concerns at this intersection. If the municipality would like to initiate new measures or traffic control, the ministry will work with them,” said ministry spokesperson Astrid Poei.
VanderBeek’s motion also directs staff to negotiate a cost-share agreement with Columbia for a safety review of additional traffic impacts.
Planning consultant John Ariens said earlier in the week the York-Newman intersection technically complies with sightline requirements — but can be improved.
“Traffic volumes are significant and school buses take a bit longer to pull out into traffic,” Ariens said. “We’re recommending a flashing signal warning that there will be buses turning.”
That proposal does not satisfy area residents Joanne Speers, Nancy McKeil and Janet Nancekivell. Nancekivell suggested a traffic light at the intersection, and possibly speed bumps.
“The main concern is the long-term vision for a 1,000-student school,” McKeil said, adding 40 buses, staggered throughout the day, would be running regularly outside the former convent.
Speers said traffic congestion on York, sometimes stretching all the way to Highway 6, will be an even bigger problem with additional buses attempting to turn right onto York and left onto Newman.
“The impact on traffic I feel has been diminished,” she said.
At planning committee, Coun. Brad Clark suggested staff should work with the ministry on potential intersection safety improvements.
“If it is a risk, it would be prudent that we step up and do something to mitigate that,” Clark said. “I don’t think we should let that drop.”
Coun. Judi Partridge agreed, adding, “It’s important we work with the ministry and see exactly what we can do. … Traffic is an issue.”
At the same time she and the rest of council supported the new use of the historic building by Columbia International College, as the longtime owners no longer need the space.
“This is a wonderful application,” Partridge said.
City planner Ryan Ferrari said the temporary student residence is a good adaptive reuse of the property.
VanderBeek told council her traffic-safety motion was important to pass at the same time as the temporary use, to show residents concerned about traffic impacts that the city is serious about working with the ministry on safety improvements in the area of York and Newman roads.
“I’d like to prove to them the city is interested in dealing with the ministry where there is already an issue, and (residents can) have the assurance we’re going to do what we said,” VanderBeek said.
A holding provision was placed on the temporary use, allowing the residence to expand to 138 students from 96 only if the ministry of environment approves expansion of the property’s septic system, in addition to a total of 19 staff.
A sale of the former Sisters of St. Joseph convent on Northcliffe Road is expected to close soon after the July 12 official approval of the temporary residence use, assuming there are no appeals of the decision.