It was a sign of what lies ahead for city staff in St. Thomas. An overview of the proposed 2017 advertising sign bylaw ran into stiff opposition at this week’s reference committee meeting.
Amendments to the existing bylaw to deal with portable signs in the downtown core faced vocal opposition from more than two dozen small businesses and area sign companies.
The bylaw would prohibit portable advertising signs in the downtown business area and limit them to one per commercial lot outside the core and three per industrial lot.
A-board signs would still be permitted but would have to come in off the sidewalk at the end of the day.
It’s a restriction similar to what’s in place in London and Sarnia.
The message was clear from downtown merchants: portable signs are cost-effective and without them, small business owners will find it difficult to get their message to consumers.
Mark Strivers, representing area sign companies, told council the portable signs generate $1.7 million in revenue for the firms.
He would like to sit down with staff and council to look for opportunities to adopt a more favourable bylaw.
Floyd Van Pelt of Sign Plus noted his customers are seeking more signs and the proposed bylaw puts pressure on smaller businesses.
Van Pelt suggested businesses should be looked at on an individual basis.
Earl Taylor, head of the Downtown Development Board, says his organization has not adopted an official position on portable signs at this time, but urged the city “to be fair with enforcement.”
Matt Sharpe noted the Kinsmen club uses the signs to advertise their events and they are “absolutely effective.”
He added, “I see the need for them but I also agree there may be too many.”
On the flip side of the coin city resident Sue Fortin-Smith, a professional land-use planner, advised St. Thomas is suffering from sign disease.
If they continue to proliferate, she warned “we will become the ugliest little city in Ontario.”
Most members of council called for a cautious approach to revamping the bylaw.
“We don’t want to deter business,” said Coun. Mark Tinlin.
Coun. Gary Clarke wondered if the city has “a sign problem or enforcement of the current bylaw.”
City manager Wendell Graves observed, “If we enforced what is on the books, we would have a lot of unhappy people.”
Most business owners wanted to see further discussions with staff and council, however that did not sit well with Mayor Heather Jackson, who sought clarification from Graves.
“We’re not having another sit down meeting,” queried Jackson. “That’s not the intent.”
Coun. Clarke responded with “That’s not to say we can’t change our mind. I’d be open to another meeting.”
Graves appeared to be in agreement, noting the need to “reach out to sign companies. This is a Pandora’s box.”
The proposed bylaw is on Monday’s (Sept. 18) council agenda.
PUTTING THE SUN TO WORK IN SOUTHWOLD
Where trains once hustled their way through Southwold township, solar panels will soon sprout.
At a public information session Wednesday (Sept. 13) in Shedden, German Solar Corporation of London detailed their planned 11-farm solar array to be constructed along an abandoned CN rail corridor.
The small clusters of panels will stretch from John Wise Line, just west of St. Thomas, across the township to its border with Southwest Middlesex, north of Hwy. 401.
Dennis German, owner of German Solar Corporation, says he expects to take title to the railway corridor in November.
“A solar array development on this type of land is ideal,” stressed German. “The province is very vocal in not allowing solar projects on prime agricultural land, residential land, on conservation land and prime industrial land.
“So for this land, I think this is the best alternative for redevelopment.”
This is not the first rail-to-solar project for German who undertook a similar development on the former CASO right-of-way near Hagersville.
Even though this is classified as a small undertaking, there will be positive impacts for Southwold, assured German.
“There are going to be immediate jobs for construction. There are going to be management and supervisory jobs required.”
Each array will occupy two or three acres along the former roadbed, with each feeding into the provincial grid.
“It’s developed strategically along the rail line to avoid the ecology, hamlets and people’s backyards. And the pockets of land in between each installation will either be sold back to the adjacent landowner . . . or will be part of a naturalization and enhancement project.”
That will involve partnering with Carolinian Canada, Niagara College, Fanshawe College and local botanists, noted German.
Solar projects are gaining acceptance to a greater degree than wind turbines, and you only have to look down the road to Dutton/Dunwich to find how vocal the opposition can be.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an easier sell, but it’s definitely more palatable than wind turbines,” suggested Southwold Mayor Grant Jones. “We declared ourselves turbine free in Southwold. Dennis has been good to work with. He’s been working with the landowners to accommodate their needs.”
The solar project will generate “a little bit” of tax revenue for Southwold, said Jones.
“But Dennis has agreed to creating a community benefit fund (similar to the Green Lane Community Fund). . . that will generate about $15,000 a year.”
The undertaking is subject to the province’s Renewable Energy Approval process with construction likely to begin next summer and take 12 to sixteen months to complete.
THE FUTURE OF WONDERLAND
Having assumed responsibility for Wonderland Road from Southwold township in November of last year, Elgin county this week laid out its game plan for reconstruction in 2019. This coincides with the City of London’s plan to reconstruct their portion of the roadway this year and next.
Peter Dutchak, Elgin county’s acting director of engineering services, indicated Wonderland Road will continue as a two-lane thoroughfare.
“We anticipate it to be a major arterial roadway in the future,” explained Dutchak, “especially when the City of London is completing their improvements on Wonderland Road, immediately north of the County of Elgin.”
Those improvements began this past week.
“So in a couple of years, we anticipate even more volume of traffic heading our way so that’s why we planned our reconstruction to coordinate with that for 2019.
The reconstruction will include elimination of the stop sign at Ron McNeil Line.
“We want to keep cars moving and direct them toward Wellington Road where we have a signalized intersection and that can support that volume of vehicles.”
In other words, a T-intersection with the stop sign now located for traffic heading north on Ron McNeil Line from Talbot Line.
“As I informed (county) council, if we see traffic is doing something different, the future needs will dictate if there are any further improvements to be made. You have to appreciate the detail design isn’t done.
“We just hired engineering services a few months ago and this is preliminarily, what we’ve decided as best likely to accommodate the projected traffic without something significant. Time will tell if we have to explore other solutions.”
Dutchak noted the traffic count on the south end of Wonderland is in the range of 2,800 vehicles per day, with the average for other Elgin county roads closer to 2,000 vehicles per day.
“We anticipate this becoming a major arterial road and Wellington Road has in excess of 10,000 cars a day. Will it turn into a Wellington Road in the future? Maybe.
“Wonderland Road is a significant north/south artery for the City of London. It will really be the city’s population and their travel movements that will influence the traffic on Wonderland.”
Also planned is a realignment of the intersection at Ferguson Line and improvements to the sharp curve at the south limit of Wonderland Road.
Designated this spring as a bicycle friendly community, St. Thomas may soon boast mountain bike trails.
In a deputation to city council, Citizens for Active Transportation and the Railway City Cycle Club are proposing the Water Tower Line Area Mountain Bike Trail be developed on 75 acres of land at the north end of city-owned Waterworks Park.
The groups have met with city staff and Ross Tucker, director of parks, recreation and property management, calls the proposal a win-win situation as the area is under utilized.
In his presentation to council Monday (Sept. 11) Tony Fangeat, Railway City Cycle Club, expects the trails – designed for all ages and experience – would be well used by area residents and visitors to St. Thomas.
He stressed the intention would be to clearly mark the trails with direction of traffic, skill level and other information and would be accessible to all and not limited to membership.
Fangeat noted the property has plenty of acreage required for a number of kilometres of trails and an area for parking.
Development and maintenance of the trails would be undertaken by volunteers, advised Fangeat, with no anticipated costs to be assumed by the city.
Examples of similar areas on municipal land include Turkey Point Mountain Bike Club, the Pines in Woodstock and the Hydro Cut in Waterloo.
FOR THE CALENDAR
The official opening of Veterans Memorial Garden in St. Thomas is set for Oct. 28.
The garden will incorporate the city’s war memorials in one downtown location, including the First World War soldier, now in front of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, and the Second World War and Korean War memorial on Princess Avenue.
Introduced into the landscaping will be three Vimy trees, grown from acorns brought to Toronto from Vimy Ridge. Officiating at the ceremony will be Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
A TIP OF THE HAT
And finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize the efforts of Warren Scott and the St. Thomas Professional Fire Fighters Association on the 16th anniversary of 9/11.
In addition to the thousands of victims killed that morning in 2001, 343 firefighters and many police and EMS personnel lost their lives in the line of duty. To remember this event, the St. Thomas Professional Fire Fighters hosted a brief ceremony Monday at the main fire hall to honour the sacrifices made by those who served in the rescue efforts on that day and for weeks and months after to extinguish fires, search for survivors and the remains of victims.
As noted in the release from the association, “Events such as 9-11 serve as a reminder of the dangers facing firefighters and other emergency service workers everywhere. It also highlights the fact that firefighting is becoming increasingly more dangerous and complex in nature. Marking the date of this tragedy allows firefighters, police, EMS and the communities they serve, to unite for a common purpose.”