Water access lanes have been a political minefield in Port Moody since the 1950s. The narrow stretches of city-owned land between some beach-front homes were originally designed to reach from the city's shoreline roads to the beaches of Burrard Inlet every few hundred metres to allow firefighters to string hoses into the inlet and pump out water to fight nearby fires.
But with the passage of time and the installation of fire hydrants, the use of the city-owned lanes has unofficially evolved into recreational public access to the water.
It's an issue that has embroiled lane-adjacent homeowners with successive city councils for decades.
So when Port Moody city council voted unanimously Tuesday to look at options including "opening up" the water access lanes on Alderside Road that have been obscured by neighbouring gardens and overgrowth for years, a group of angry Alderside residents voiced its complaints at the meeting.
One of these invisible no-man's lands lies between 672 and 702 Alderside Rd., the long-time homes of Bruce Littlejohn and Bill Jensen, respectively.
Walking the roughly 50 paces along the lane from Alderside Road to the south-facing waterfront, the 79-year-old Jensen points out where there was once a city-owned walkway of paving stones beside his property leading to the inlet. The lane was a magnet for dumping, vandalism and drug use, Jensen said.
And because the pathway simply ended at the water, there was nowhere for visitors to go except onto his or Littlejohn's property.
Roughly four years ago, when the city pulled up the pavers to install a drainage pipe under the lane, Jensen and Littlejohn were allowed to landscape over where the old path had been. Today, there is no fence or border between the two neighbours' properties and no sign at all that there is a band of city-owned land between them.
Both neighbours have tried to buy the lane over the years, without success.
"We cut the grass and pay for this and don't get to enjoy it. We just work on it," Jensen said.
Their chief worry is that if the city opens up the Alderside Road lanes again, not only will the trespassers and petty criminals return, but the two neighbours could be held responsible if someone hurts himself while unwittingly trespassing on their properties.
It's an argument Coun. Karen Rockwell, who lives up the hill from of the Alderside neighbourhood, put back on them.
"My biggest concern is... where residents have placed obstructions on city-owned property and it creates a potential liability for the city. As they said, they have grandchildren, and if they have grandchildren coming to play and those grandkids think that that's grandma and grandpa's property and they fall down and break a leg, it's actually city-owned property and that puts us in a position of liability."
Rockwell and the other councillors were quick to note at Tuesday's meeting that the opening of the Alderside access lanes is just one consideration in the city's broader land-management strategy, a strategy to reclaim under-used city land to provide maximum public benefit.
Mayor Joe Trasolini told council he backs one possible solution that includes the city entering encroachment agreements with lane-adjacent residents, which would allow the city its rightful ownership of the lanes while giving the neighbours tenancy on the land.
It's a concession that Littlejohn agreed is a step in the right direction but said doesn't go far enough.
"The type of lease they're talking about doesn't give the residents any rights. I'd like to see a lease where it gives the city access only if there is an emergency," Littlejohn told The Tri-City News Wednesday. "We as a small group here are really upset with this whole thing and that council keeps bringing it back."
Mayor Trasolini told council and the residents in attendance that since Port Moody's beginning, the city has allowed resident encroachment on city land but that his council would tackle the issue once and for all.
Addressing the Alderside residents directly, he said: "I believe you should welcome this motion because it sets us up to resolve this issue so that every 15 years you don't have to marshal your support and come here and give council some trouble."
Mayor and council verbally agreed Tuesday that with the $15,000 allocation, city staff would arrange to meet with Alderside residents individually to find the best solution to the access lane dispute.
Littlejohn and Jensen, however, said they'll believe it when they see it. Those kinds of promises, they said, have been made and then forgotten before, only to exacerbate the issue for the next council that comes along.