The Windermere Town Council voted unanimously to deny the paving of West Fifth Avenue from Forest Street to Main Street after residents spoke against the project.
The council first discussed the possibility of making roadway improvements to one-half block of West Fifth Avenue from Windermere Brewing Company to Forest Street at the November Town Council meeting.
According to official town documents, the purpose of creating a hard surface at the section would be to “increase ADA accessibility for those attending events, improve access for those visiting our local businesses/partners and add additional parking better suited to these events.”
The Town Council requested a virtual public input workshop, which was held in December, to answer questions, address concerns and discuss the topic.
If the project were to move forward, town staff recommended approving a piggyback option with Middlesex Paving in an amount not to exceed $60,000.
In addition to Town Clerk Dorothy Burkhalter reading multiple emails from residents speaking out against the paving, several shared their thoughts during public comment at the Town Council meeting.
Theresa Schretzmann-Myers, who chaired the Windermere Tree Board for 15 years, asked the town not to pave and to spend town money where it is most needed by replanting the tree canopy.
“Those permeable dirt road streets protect the Butler Chain of Lakes by allowing stormwater to percolate down and be intercepted by Windermere tree canopy that absorbs millions of gallons of stormwater runoff,” she said. “That is their most important job here. … Anytime you pave, you’re wrecking, you’re impacting, you’re cutting the roots of those very large oaks that do all of the stormwater mitigation for our Butler Chain of Lakes.”
Several locals spoke out about the importance of the current dirt roads in the town.
“A part of the uniqueness of the town of Windermere is dirt roads,” Bob McKinley said. “We like it that way. We want to keep it that way. … Every time we start talking about paving, we get people riled up. … Let’s get paving out of our vocabulary. I don’t know who keeps coming up with paving.”
Nora Brophy agreed.
“The dirt roads are a really important part of our town,” she said. “The residents here — we have a lot of different viewpoints on a lot of different things. But I’ve lived here for 20 years, and everyone has been really consistent — we don’t want the roads paved. We don’t want them paved if they’re cheap. We don’t want them paved if they’re free. We don’t want them green. We don’t want them blue. We don’t want them paved.”
Based on the input from the meeting and in the past, Mayor Jim O’Brien said the paving is “really not for me.”
Council Member Molly Rose said she is not in favor of paving and has not received one letter, note or comment in favor of the paving. She also said she is not in support of installing brick because it is high maintenance and costly.
“I really want to thank the staff,” she said. “This is not your fault. You saw an opportunity. You brought it to our attention that we could do this, and it’s a good money-saver if it was something the town wanted. Please don’t stop bringing those ideas up.”
John Fitzgibbon said the Public Works Department is always trying to be not only strategic but also creative for the town and its residents.
“Our job is to present things when we think they’re right or think that they can do good and then allow the residents, and you guys to make the decision and give us direction,” he said.
O’Brien reiterated that despite what some people think, it’s not an agenda item to push pavement.
“We want our staff to be creative; we want our staff when they see money-saving opportunities as something that can be useful we talk about it,” he said. “We’ll talk about anything. That’s what we do here.”
The paving project was denied unanimously.