Puslinch council considers revitalization plans for downtown Aberfoyle, Morriston

PUSLINCH – Thousands of vehicles drive through Aberfoyle and Morriston on their way to wherever they are going; how to make them stop and spend some time in the villages is the burning question.

Wellington County has been helping Puslinch figure out how to revitalize the commercial centres in Aberfoyle and Morriston and on Feb. 28 two county economic development officers – James Vaclavek and Christina Mann – presented the results of their investigation.

“You want to make it feel like a hamlet and not a place you drive through,” said Vaclavek, noting, as councillors often have, that traffic is loud, fast and frequent along the Highway 6 corridor.

He said landscaping and sidewalks can separate road traffic from foot traffic to make pedestrians feel safer. But there has to be something to do or see to make people want to park their cars and spend some time in the first place.

According to Roger Brooks, an expert on travel, tourism, downtowns, community branding and destination marketing, successful downtowns need 10 places that sell food, 10 destination retail shops and 10 places that are open after 6pm.

Between the two hamlets there are four places that sell food (one in Aberfoyle and three in Morriston), seven destination retail shops (five in Aberfoyle and two in Morriston) and three places open after 6pm (one in Aberfoyle and two in Morriston).

That’s a good variety, Vaclavek said, and a good base to build on.

“The Aberfoyle Antique Market – there’s opportunity to build on that,” he said. “It’s an important asset.”

Vaclavek said it’s hard to achieve a downtown feel with four lanes of traffic buzzing by, but it is possible.

He suggested adding banners to hydro poles in the two centres to welcome visitors and clearly identify the downtown areas. It’s a low-cost option – certainly less expensive that sidewalks, which he also recommended.

He said the county library and Puslinch Community Centre are lovely destinations the township could capitalize on.

Morriston also has a lot going for it – lovely old buildings with revamped facades, good walkability, heritage plaques on historic buildings that tell the story of the hamlet, and lots of parking on the side streets.

But there’s no opportunity for sidewalk patios with the noise of traffic; there’s a lack of boutique retail; and there’s only one place for pedestrians to cross the road.

The long-promised Highway 6/Morriston bypass will improve traffic and noise concerns, but when that will be constructed is anyone’s guess.

The county is working on a marketing campaign to promote the downtowns in all seven of its municipalities that will include maps and photos. 

This will be posted on the county website and shared with the member municipalities.

The county is also planning to interview all businesses in the downtowns for an accurate inventory and outline of what the businesses offer. It’s also a great time to let business owners know about the programs and grants the county offers businesses.

At Vaclavek’s invitation, council agreed to have Your Time Rising, a consulting firm, meet with the business community and determine grassroots activities they can participate in to activate the downtowns.

Interim CAO Courtenay Hoytfox told council the township bought banners but is having challenges with Hydro One and the Ministry of Transportation getting permission to mount the banners on their poles and posts.

“We could talk to the county about installing banners on streetlights in Aberfoyle,” added director of public works, parks and facilities Mike Fowler. 

“But it’s challenging installing the banners, especially in Morriston.”

Mayor James Seeley wanted staff to return to council at a future date with cost estimates for adding streetlights in Aberfoyle, a solar powered crosswalk in Aberfoyle, and parking signs in both centres.

Puslinch resident Bill Knetsch spoke as a delegation and reminded council that there was a streetscape strategy for Morriston that was conducted in 2014 and shelved in 2016 when the province announced the Morriston bypass would proceed.

In 2018 the bypass was “downgraded” by the province, and Knetsch figured it will be 2040 before the bypass is complete, “if we’re lucky,” he said.

He’d like the township to dust off the streetscape strategy and focus on the initiatives recommended there.

They include:

  • larger street signs;
  • community safety zones;
  • decorative lighting in the two centres;
  • banners; and
  • planting trees and shrubs in medians.

Knetsch also recommended adding traffic lights at Highway 6 and Leslie Road, just south of Morriston, which would make it much safer for vehicles entering or leaving the highway.

Councillor Jessica Goyda hoped the streetscape strategy would be shared with Your Town Rising before it begins its work with businesses, “so they can incorporate work that’s already done,” she said.

Councillor John Sepulis thought there might be opportunity to get some funding from the province since it bailed on the bypass.

“Why don’t we leverage what we want in Morriston; let them show some remorse for not moving on the bypass,” he suggested.

“We should at least get them to fund something.”

Council directed staff to write a letter to the Ministry of Transportation and request funding for some of the recommendations in the report.