LONDON, ONT. -- A recent decision to exempt some residential streets from the installation of new sidewalks may be coming back to haunt London city council.

Less than a year later, homeowners in several neighbourhoods are now pushing back against plans to install sidewalks across their front lawns and driveways.

“I’ve received a lot of emails,” admitted Councillor Phil Squire, who represents the Orchard Park neighbourhood where several streets will undergo reconstruction projects this year.

A report to the Civic Works Committee (CWC) lists eight road projects in 2021 that will include the addition of sidewalks for the first time.

The installation of sidewalks is a policy imbedded in The London Plan to improve safety for pedestrians and provide accessibility for Londoners with disabilities.

“I don’t know if there are options,” explains homeowner Lilianne Dang who learned sidewalks were coming only days before Tuesday’s CWC meeting. “It was news to us that this was a project moving forward this year, and what the extent of the impact would be on our street.”

Construction to rebuild Friars Way will require the city to cut down 30 of the 96 boulevard trees.

After shocked residents inundated the committee with letters, councillors slammed the timing and quality of consultation with the public.

“The decisions are being made, and afterwards constituents are coming to us saying they didn’t know about it,” said Councillor Squire.

“We’re saying, you (homeowners) are getting a sidewalk whether you like it or not. That’s its not working,” added Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen.

“I do appreciate trying to find a way to make this a more thoughtful process so that people feel engaged,” said Councillor Maureen Cassidy. “So they don’t feel like their scrambling at the last minute and not being heard.”

The installation of a sidewalk is traditionally included as part of lifecycle renewal projects on residential streets to save money and improve mobility in the area.

But council may have opened the door to community pushback against sidewalks when it granted three streets special exemptions in 2020.

In March, Fox Mill Crescent, Camden Crescent, and Runnymede Crescent were excluded from the policy because many large boulevard trees would need to be removed to accommodate sidewalks.

On Tuesday, Councillor Jesse Helmer reminded his colleagues on the Civic Works Committee about the consequence of those past decisions.

“If we keep making exceptions to that, we are going to have lots and lots and lots of requests for exceptions,” he said.

The committee decided to hear from concerned residents, and those who advocate in favour of sidewalks, at its March 2 meeting.

“It’s not a done deal,” said Councillor Elizabeth Peloza. “We will receive more letters and the delegations.”

“I don’t think I’m anti-sidewalk,” said Lilianne Dang in front of her Friars Way home. “But (I’m considering) the balance of losing 30 trees out of 90 trees on our street.”

The deadline to register as a delegation with city hall is Feb. 17.

The list of roads receiving new sidewalks in 2021 can be found here.