Lace up your skates

Skating rinks now permitted in Park Ex alleys

The VSP borough council officially allowed the construction of ice rinks in unplowed alleyways. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

For kids growing up in the city, the number of places available to play is limited. Without access to backyards like suburban kids and the streets dangerously busy, only parks are left as a safe place to play. Alleyways on the other hand have long found themselves in the middle, neither exclusively for cars nor only for play.  

Last week, the borough council moved to rectify this, officially approving a new regulation that made the installation of alleyway ice rinks easier for residents. Previously, skating rinks had been tolerated by the borough but not officially permitted. 

The decision came after several Park Extension residents spoke out on the difficulty they encountered when building rinks in their laneways, even with a majority of support from their immediate neighbours. 

50% plus one

Meaghan Thurston, a Park Ex resident and mother of two, has organized an alleyway rink for three years now. After some issues surrounding their laneway rink, she was happy to see the borough finally adopt a motion that would regularize their status. 

“This year after the construction of the rink we were informed that it was not compliant with the new regulations and that one neighbour was opposed to it,” said Thurston. 

“Our apartments border the rink but only one person opposed to it is considered sufficient to stop its use,” she continued, criticizing a previous decision that allowed one complaint to render an ice rink nonconforming.

She added that disagreements among certain neighbours on a rink are representative of differing views on what public space should be used for. “They’ve made it official that we can have a rink with 50% plus one,” continued Thurston, adding that “the borough mayor came to visit the rink last week, which was nice.” 

A rink was recently ordered covered after some residents complained to the borough. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

New regulation

The new rule came into effect on Feb. 1 at the boroughs’ monthly meeting, where council members voted in favour of the resolution. The new rule officially permits the installation of outdoor rinks in unplowed back alleys and laneways in the borough, whereas previously they had only been tolerated by inspectors.

“It is important to ensure that the residents whose residence directly borders the space used for the skating rink are in favour of the project,” read the boroughs’ rule, stipulating that “a majority of 50% plus 1 must be obtained.” 

Once the adhesion of the majority of neighbours is obtained, residents must inform the borough of their plans to build, including a completed consent form signed by the residents in favour of the project.

“​​For those of us who are making a choice to live in such a dense urban neighbourhood, we do need this kind of initiative,” 

Safety first

Once residents have gone through the approval process, they can proceed with the installation. According to new borough rules, the rink must abide by certain criteria to be considered legal. 

The rink must include crossing strips of 60 cm or more on either side to ensure pedestrians can walk around safely. They must also include proper signage at each end and around the rink to indicate the presence of an unusual ice surface.

Residents must also remove any object obstructing the lane after they use the rink and must also observe all COVID-19 health regulations currently in place. At the end of the season, residents are responsible for cleaning up the installation and ensuring the alleyway returns to its original state. 

Meaghan Thurston (right), a Park Ex resident and mother of two, lobbied the city to make regulations easier for residents. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

Warm reception among elected officials

The borough mayor and city councillors were generally in favour of the initiative regularizing the presence of small skating rinks in the alleys of Villeray—Saint-Michel— Parc-Extension. 

“The regulation that was adopted, responds to this issue,” said mayor Lavigne Lalonde. “What we want to ensure is that there is a majority of neighbours that are in favour of the installation of a rink and that a single person cannot impede a project like this one,” she added.

The mayor added that the regulation is aimed at alleyways that are not plowed and therefore not heavily used in the winter, except for occasional use for heating fuel replenishment and telecommunications repairs. 

“I’m in favour because I feel it’s important that families have a place to play,” stated city councillor Mary Deros, but added that she hoped the new regulation would take into account the view of other neighbours and the need to deliver fuel and do repairs in alleys. 

Potential for improvement

Although Thurston and her neighbours were pleased with the new regulation, she nonetheless felt that there could still be an improvement. Thurston highlighted how a multi-year mandate for a rink that wouldn’t require approval every year would be less cumbersome for residents.

“That way we’re not tasked with going door to door every single year. It’s kind of an agreement among the neighbourhood for, let’s say, three years or maybe five,” suggested Thurston. “We can revisit that and do the survey again if it seems necessary,” she added. 

“This is how public space should be used barring any real security concerns or privacy concerns, which in this case, really, I don’t think exist,” stated Thurston.

“​​For those of us who are making a choice to live in such a dense urban neighbourhood, we do need this kind of initiative,” she added. 

The rinks must abide by certain criteria, including the use of proper signage and footpaths on either side. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST