In a compelling presentation last month to Thames Valley District School Board trustees, St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry stressed “it would be really dumb to close New Sarum (public school) because you are going to wipe out empty seats at Mitchell Hepburn.”
With the number of new homes coming online, Tarry insisted both schools will be needed. He noted 92 lots in his newest St. Thomas subdivision sold out within four days of release.
Well you have to look no further than Monday’s council agenda to ascertain Tarry was not stretching the truth.
The St. Thomas housing market is on fire and school board trustees should have paid heed to his warning.
Here’s a rundown on applications before council June 19.
Springwater Developments is proposing five buildings, each containing four townhouse units and two lots for semi-detached dwellings to be located on Arbor Trail in the Orchard Park South Development Area.
Shawside Development Ltd., is proposing to develop 59 lots for single detached dwellings and 39 multiple-attached or detached dwelling units with part of another block of land set aside for future development. This is to be located on Old Course Road.
Owner Russell Higgins plans to develop 55 lots for single-detached dwellings on the former Gloin Farm property adjacent to the Shawside Development Area.
And Tarry is seeking permission to proceed with Phase 1 of his Millers Pond Subdivision on the former Parish Farm, west of Fairview Road. This would entail 52 lots for single-detached dwellings. This is in addition to a total of 255 dwelling units proposed for the Harvest Run Block Plan on the former Axford Farm, east of Centennial Road.
Of course the London-based school board dismissed all presentations from a bevy of concerned parents, students, municipal and business leaders and will march ahead with its plan to close schools in Sparta, New Sarum, South Dorchester and Springfield. Sparta would be the first to close and then be re-purposed as a second French Immersion school in Elgin.
Again we refer to the presentation that evening from John Hueston, president of the Aylmer Express newspaper, who opened with the Mark Twain quote, “In the first place, God made idiots. This was just for practice. Then he made school boards.”
AVAILABLE, ONE USED POLICE HQ
With the St. Thomas Police Service ensconced in their new $11 million home at 45 CASO Crossing, the question for the city becomes what of their old digs in the Colin McGregor Justice Building?
City council will be in receipt of a report Monday with two options for the building dating back to the 1970s, both revolving around the municipality retaining ownership of the Catharine Street property.
One critical factor is soil contamination on a portion of the site, identified in an environmental report undertaken by consultants Conestoga Rovers in 2012. A coal gasification plant had previously been located on the property.
Soil samples from the northern portion of the property exceed Ministry of the Environment standards for benzene, lead and petroleum hydrocarbon contamination.
In addition, groundwater results indicated several samples were impacted with acenaphthylene – one of a group of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs for short – likely related to the coal gasification plant and benzene from an unknown source. The amounts did not exceed MOE standards.
The report to council from city manager Wendell Graves advises the city can either lease the building to interested parties or develop it as a centralized civic square.
As a first step, Graves recommends putting the building on the market until the end of this year to determine interest from potential long-term tenants. Marketing of the site would be undertaken in partnership with the Economic Development Corporation.
If this fails to attract viable offers this year, then Graves suggests demolishing the structure – at an estimated cost of $400,000 – and begin the process of transforming the property into a civic square. A year ago, city staff drafted a conceptual plan for such a development that would link city hall, the public library and the London & Port Stanley Railway corridor.
If you remember, a 2015 retail market study undertaken by Dillon Consulting and W. Scott Morgan & Associates presented to council in April urged the city to develop the former police headquarters property for “community use including active and passive recreational uses.”
A CONNECTED TOMORROW
The city is set to open Phase 1 of its South Park Connectivity Project, a 4.2 km multi-use asphalt trail that will connect with the existing London & Port Stanley Rail Corridor in the west and extend the existing Orchard Park South recreational trail to Elm Street in the east.
The initial section to open the week of June 19 is a one km long path that includes three pedestrian crossings – at Lake Margaret Trail, Bill Martyn Parkway and Fairview Avenue – and links Sauve Avenue to Penhale Avenue. The path was completed in partnership with Elgin St. Thomas Public Health, Doug Tarry Limited and Hayhoe Homes and will link residents in the south end of the city with Pinafore Park and the Doug Tarry Complex.
The South Park Connectivity Project is a major component of the city’s active transportation undertaking whereby the installation of multi-use paths, bike lanes and trails will offer residents the opportunity of a healthier lifestyle.
Work on Phase 2 will begin this fall to link Penhale Avenue with the existing Orchard Park South recreation trail, a distance of 700 metres and is expected to be completed this year.
Construction of the Gateway Roundabout is on schedule and the city’s newest and largest traffic circle is still scheduled to open at the end of this month. Another piece of good news for motorists, the final phase of the $2.1 million project will not require the entire closure of the intersection Talbot Street, Sunset Drive and Wellington Road during the evening hours and overnight.
The initial plan was to close the entire intersection for a number of nights starting at 7 until 6 the next morning to do paving work. Instead, east-west traffic will be allowed through the area with motorists being flagged when required to follow channel lanes.
The south leg of the project involving the Sunset Drive route is expected to be completed next week although it will not re-open to traffic until the entire project is completed.
Speaking at a public open house in February, David Jackson, the city’s manager of capital works, noted “We have put a pretty tight schedule in (70 calendar days) but one benefit of working down here is there is no underground infrastructure,” explained David Jackson, the city’s manager of capital works. “So mainly it is surface work. There is some ditching and culverts and streetlights, but other than that it is just surface work and that helps speed the project up.”
FROM COURTHOUSE TO PLAYHOUSE
Still on the topic of transformations, Katelin Clegg is seeking permission to create a children’s indoor play centre with the existing building at 1 Silver Street. The former temporary site of the city’s courthouse is now vacant.
Her proposal is to offer a setting similar to Adventures on Wonderland in the south end of London.
The aim of the facility is to offer “recreational opportunities that involve physical activity in a fun environment.”
Activities would include climbing equipment and active games with the possibility of a laser tag arena which would house arcade-type games.
The plan, to be presented to council Monday, indicates the facility would be “open to drop-in clients as well as pre-planned group activities such as birthday parties. The report to council advises, “While mainly catering to children and families, there is potential to host adult events in the laser tag arena such as corporate team building.”
The facility would be located immediately to the south of the soon-to-be-built 65-acre St. Thomas Outdoor Recreation Complex on Burwell Road.
EXPANDING FOR THE INEVITABLE
The housing market is not the only rapidly growing sector in St. Thomas and area. City council is being asked Monday to approve the expansion of Elmdale Memorial Park Cemetery on Wilson Avenue.
The owners plan to achieve this through purchase of adjacent lands at 33 and 35 Elm Street. The cemetery has been in operation since 1933 and offers burial and cremation lots in addition to cremation interment in a columbarium.
City administration is in support of the expansion.
Larger cities around the world are running out of valuable land set aside for cemeteries and are having to look at alternative methods of dealing with the deceased, including vertical cemeteries sitting 10 stories or more underground and temporary plots with a fixed-lease period.