What lies ahead for the Alma College property might very well come into sharper focus this fall. London developer Gino Reale is optimistic such is the case.
Speaking to him from his home Friday, Reale was upbeat.
“There have been a lot of positive discussions. We’re getting close to some resolutions. But nothing has been inked.”
While he was unable to reveal details at this time, Reale said discussions are underway with a group on the possibility of constructing a small recreation centre on the Moore Street property geared to seniors. Part of the green space could be utilized for a community garden, suggested Reale.“I would like to carve off a couple of acres for these people and then they’re going to attract other affiliated users.”
It is his hope to eventually release plans for a mixed-use proposal comprised of apartment units and townhouses.
“We’ve had discussions with people who want to do all townhouses, but I don’t want to do all townhouses. “I want that property to have mixed uses. I still would like to see that train coming from Port Stanley and stopping there. That’s a dream of mine.”
Most important, Reale has initiated discussions with the city and one topic considered is incorporating an Alma College main building facade into future development.
“When I met with Wendell (city manager Wendell Graves), he said can you put the doorway in. Sure we can. I’m going to do what’s right and work with the city on the facade. I said to him I want to work with you, I don’t want to go through the same thing as the Zubicks (the Zubick family of London, former owners of the property).
“At the very least, there should be something there that pays tribute to the Alma heritage. And the facade is nothing compared to what I would like to see there. I would like to see a small museum, I would like to see the plaque (heritage designation) returned to the site. I would like to see the amphitheatre revitalized.”
A lofty dream?
Perhaps, but the site of the former school for girls hasn’t had this much positive attention in over a decade.
“The last conversation I had with Wendell, I said the next time I come and see you, I will see you with a plan. And not a two-year-old plan.”
We’ve been down this road before with the Zubick family and their Alma Heritage Estates vision. While nothing of substance has yet been unveiled, Reale is talking a good game.
However, as with anything, it is money on the table that will do the loudest talking.
OPENING ANOTHER PANDORA’S BOX
It shouldn’t come as a surprise but city council on Monday put renovations to the animal shelter on hold because the lowest tender bid came in $38,000 over the $260,000 budget allocated to the project.
Now, numerous projects have faced a similar financial setback and, in most cases, the city has dipped into reserves to move things forward.
That is not the case with the animal shelter and you have to ask is putting the future of the facility in a holding pattern – in a state of procrastination purgatory – a belief by staff and council animal welfare issues will just resolve themselves over time or simply go away?
We put that question to Lois Jackson, chair of the city’s Animal Welfare Select Committee and founder of All-Breed Canine Rescue.
“I just think the city lacks a vision, it lacks a goal,” suggested Jackson on Friday. “What is it you’re doing and why are you doing it? What do you want to achieve and how are you going to get there.”
Is it because no one is willing to get behind the wheel of the bus at city hall?
“There’s a lack of leadership,” advised Jackson. “And I think that’s because there is no big picture here. What are you trying to do and how are you going to get there rather than putting lipstick on a pig.
“The other municipalities pay into the shelter (including Aylmer, Malahide, Central Elgin and Southwold), it’s chicken feed. Get it done. I don’t get it, I don’t know if there are other factors.”
Jackson is careful not to point the finger solely at members of council, some of whom are sympathetic to animal welfare issues.
“I think council, in its own way is well intentioned and is trying to see progress here . . . but you need to go to other pounds and see how they do it. Take good ideas from other municipalities and decide what you want.
“Yes they had input (from Lois and the committee) but not enough to understand the big picture. It’s like building a nursing home. You just don’t slam it together and then say there, it’s done.
“Is city hall well intentioned? Yes. But they just seem to not grasp that none of them has any experience with the dog pound. They need someone to take ownership and leadership.”
So what does she envision?
“Personally I think it’s go big or just improve. And what are you trying to improve? There’s no storage area. There’s no place for people to visit with the animals one on one. Let’s clean it up. It’s fifteen years old and hasn’t had a good cleaning in 15 years.”
You can see Jackson doesn’t mince her words and ruffling feathers is the least of her concerns.
“Here’s my bottom line. If you can’t run a dog pound, what else can’t you do? When I get back after Labour Day, I’m going to drum up the courage and call Justin (Justin Lawrence, the city’s director of environmental services) and say ‘Can I help you? Can I help you get this off your desk?’
“I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I’ve seen 18 years of problems mount up. If I was Justin, I would say where do I start? This is what I’ve done every single day for 18 years. Every time they turn around they are opening another Pandora’s Box. They try to fix one problem and create 10 more. Listen to someone who is actually trying to help you.”
So, council’s decision to park the pound problems – if only temporarily – is simply compounding 18 years of frustration experienced by Jackson.
“We’ve tried to be honest brokers. We’ve tried to be civil and professional. We’ve tried to put things in front of council that we thought made sense for everybody. And then it just goes to hell.
“It’s so mismanaged, so mishandled due to a lack of leadership and experience. It needs a re-think. It needs someone with experience and some guts. And let’s get a community buy-in.”
Council and staff would be wise to avoid impounding the animal shelter re-think for an extended period of time. After all, you have the expertise needed sitting right in front of you as head of the city’s animal welfare committee.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH . . .
How’s that code of conduct working out for ya?
Seems more like a lame-duck threat based on council’s decision this week to assess Coun. Linda Stevenson nothing more that a light slap on the wrist over her indiscretion behind closed doors.
She’ll get an official letter of reprimand, something along the lines of “now play nice Linda and remember to colour inside the lines.”
This, in spite of the fact integrity commissioner John Maddox ruled council was justified in considering “a reprimand of the member as prescribed in your Code of Conduct.”
That reprimand could have included a suspension of pay or removal from her position as chair of the Economic Development Corporation board.
This all stems from a complaint filed by Coun. Jeff Kohler that discussions held in closed session during the June 26 meeting of the EDC were not relevant to corporation business.
Maddox agreed with Kohler, noting “I am left with no alternative but to conclude that these discussions were out of order and, in fact, certain information did put the chair (Linda Stevenson) in contravention of the Code of Conduct as suggested by the complaint.”
Kohler had called for a 30-day pay suspension, rather extreme in this instance. Removing Stevenson from her position on the committee would be more in keeping.
Especially in light of her years of employment experience and time spent on numerous boards and committees. She should have known better.
But the majority of council – surely one of the weakest municipal bodies in many years – chose again to avoid controversy and skirt the tough decisions in order to settle for the path of least resistance.
A far cry from the time former alderman Dave Warden had to undergo sensitivity training for – in our opinion – a rather minor faux pas.
WAITING TO BE SERVED
Speaking of putting matters on hold, this corner is still awaiting answers on or returned phone calls dealing with:
- plans for the Sutherland Press building from owner David McGee and lawyer Valerie M’Garry, both of whom have gone strangely silent;
- the status of former Ontario Works director Barbara Arbuckle;
- an update on contract talks between the city and firefighters;
- how the move to 24-hour firefighter shifts will improve fire safety for city residents.