It’s fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the announcement last April the city has extended a conditional offer to London developer Shmuel Farhi to purchase a vacant plot of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and extending to Centre Street.
The site is being considered for development of a community hub to house the Ontario Works department and the Central Community Health Centre, both currently occupying office space along the north side of Talbot Street. The possibility also exists the site could be used for affordable housing units.
In the intervening months, the city has undertaken due diligence. Time is becoming a factor, however, as the lease on the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot Street current home of Ontario Works and also owned by Farhi, expires later this year.
Back in November, city council gave staff the green light to follow up on soil investigation at 230 Talbot Street, the vacant lot in question.
“So things are progressing,” advised city manager Wendell Graves at the end of November. “These are all processes that take time. There still is an interest from the city side and we’re just doing a little more due diligence.”
The issue would appear to be soil contamination.
“We know from our initial investigations,” Graves continued, “it looks like there are deposits of some sort of cinder material across the entire site. And there is at least one hot spot where there was some petroleum-based impacts on the site.
“Hopefully in a few weeks we’ll have that quantified more specifically for us and then we’ll decide whether we’re going to move forward or not, based on cleanup costs.”
Graves indicated that decision will come early this year.
So wouldn’t Farhi be responsible for the cost of clean up as the vendor?
“In this instance we’re going to control the site cleanup,” said Graves. “If in fact we take ownership of it.”
That “if” appears to be looming ever larger with each conversation.
The next obvious question, can the lease with Farhi for the Mickleborough building be extended.
“I think it could be,” Graves suggested.
The city is dealing with a tough negotiator in Farhi, more so if the city walks away from the 230 Talbot Street deal.
It was a non-starter Tuesday at the Elgin County Courthouse as the planned hearing between the City of St. Thomas and David McGee, owner of the Sutherland Press building, was scrubbed when his lawyer, Valerie M’Garry, was unable to attend due to illness.
McGee is challenging an unsafe building order issued Oct. 28 by the city that gave him until Dec. 15 of last year to provide a detailed work plan and schedule repairs to begin by Monday at the four-storey structure.
As frustrated as city staffers surely must be, the mood of many city residents is reaching the boiling point as witness these Facebook comments.
Tiffany Ruault quotes from this corner, “In an interview last November, M’Garry said the lack of specificity with regard to repairs mandated by the city, combined with the unreasonable time frame to complete those repairs resulted in a situation that is “just not realistic.” Then Tiffany adds, “They have had YEARS. How is that not enough time??”
Jody Mae Cline adds, “Too bad the judges and lawyers responsible for dragging this out couldn’t be held liable for damages if someone were to be hurt.”
“The courts have failed people of St Thomas permitting Sutherland a failed building to hold St Thomas hostage,” adds Jim Foster.
Want to get a better sense of the damage to the roof of the building dating back to 1913? Check out this drone video
We’ll update on McGee’s appeal when a new court date is released.
At Monday’s meeting, members of council will be asked to endorse an Ontario Works bus pass pilot project designed to assist low-income residents with the cost of transportation.
Under the nine-month test, monthly bus passes will be offered to employable and active Ontario Works participants beginning Feb. 1.
Eligibility criteria will include individuals and solesupport parents who are job searching and those who are underemployed. Ontario Works already provides bus pass funds through discretionary benefits “to individuals who are medically deferred and require transportation to medical appointments,” advised the report coming before council.
The report goes on to note, “The Ontario Works Bus Pass Pilot Program is an intervention in poverty reduction that removes barriers for individuals who are actively seeking employment, attending employment-related skill-building activities, or are employed in lower-paying jobs.”
The pilot program could also be a win for the city as the report points out.
“As well as improving usage of City buses, increased ridership as a result of the pilot will potentially lead to increased provincial transportation funding for the City going forward.”
TIME TO ACCOUNT
City council will hold a special meeting Monday at 4 p.m. where Graves and director of finance David Aristone will undertake a presentation on the proposed 2017 capital and operating budgets. The meeting is open to the public.
Two additional meetings – also starting at 4 p.m. – will be held Jan. 16 and 23.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We need to make sure that our children are still going to be safe. We need to make sure that people are not driving impaired under the influence of drugs … They’ve talked more about the legalization and not the negative things that could happen.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio in a year-end interview with Times-Journal reporter Jennifer Bieman.
City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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