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Do lights = action? Cobra Climb controversy for council

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
September 28th, 2012

Roughly 10 people, along with two city councillors and two senior city staffers, gathered at the community forum this evening to discuss the future of the Cobra Climb… and it’s as tough now to predict the end result as it was at the beginning of the public feedback session.

The Cobra Climb is a huge stretch of covered outdoor stairs in Kinnaird that has been in the community for generations, and is popular for exercise enthusiasts, walking buffs and, apparently, late-night partiers.

The stairwell was part of the old Kinnaird Middle School grounds that fell into disrepair until the city bought the property about seven years ago. The plan was originally to get rid of them but, according to city councillor Deb McIntosh, a dramatic public outcry saw the city refurbish the stairwell instead.

A new hue and cry arose last year, however, when McIntosh suggested furnishing the stairs with lights (which were part of the original design but were destroyed by vandals many years past). 

“I was completely surprised,” McIntosh said in reference to strong opposition from area residents to the plan, which had already been approved through the city’s budget process, with a $10,000 line item in the budget already  used to purchase the lights. “I didn’t see a downside to it – but I’m glad residents spoke up and are providing us with the input we need to make a decision that will best serve everyone who uses the stairs.”

She also said the city was looking, not just at lighting, but at all options including better parking and maintenance – whatever residents were to indicate they want to see.

Only two people in the meeting seemed deeply opposed to the lighting, one of whom was Verna Chernoff, who said she has lived opposite the venue for 30 years, and remembers an uphill climb of social issues back when it was lit.

“I’m not drawing from speculation. I know. From experience,” Chernoff said. “Parties, noise, screeching tires, vandalism, mess.”

She said she sent pamphlets out to 125 area residents, along with comment sheets and an informal petition, and all but one of the residents she approached opposed the lighting plan.

“$18,000 (the original planned price tag) for a project that’s unneccessary and unwanted seems absurd,” she said. “We value the Cobra Climb, it’s important to our community, so let’s keep them maintained and not provide an environment that leads to anything else.”

She said nearby residents were also concerned about light pollution from the stairs detracting from sight lines and causing a nuisance.

City director of Public Works Chris Barlow took a few minutes to turn off the lights in the forum, turning on one of the proposed new fixtures to show what it would look like, explaining the LED fixtures are far more focussed and have far less “obnoxious” light spill than their predecessors, sodium arc lighting.

He also said the city has generally foung lighting to be a deterrant, rather than an attractant, in terms of parties, vandalism and other problematic behaviours.

Ultimately the meeting, which lasted just over an hour, presented no clear approach on which everyone could agree. 

Barlow said the input, including letters, petitions and comment cards filled out this evening, will be processed by staff to bring a recommendation back to council, likely at their regular meeting Oct. 15.

Residents wishing to provide input are encouraged to contact City Hall at 250-365-7227.

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