Casting a shadow over development of Alma College property


Alma College plaque

At a reference committee meeting in February of this year, he promised to build “something that is beautiful” on the 11-acre former site of Alma College.
His proposed development would consist of a trio of seven-storey apartment buildings and the Moore Street property would be laced with a system of pathways, while the iconic amphitheatre would be for the use of “everybody in the community. That’s part of the history of the community and that should be for everybody.”
In the intervening months, the residential undertaking has evolved with one of the towers now pegged at nine stories and the amphitheatre will be for the use of residents and their visitors to the complex.
And, at a site plan control committee meeting Nov. 13, developer Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties suggested the development would be a gated community, putting public access to the trail system and amphitheatre in doubt.

The meeting, to deal with technical aspects of Patriot Properties’ application for development of the former school for girls, generated more questions than answers.
Several residents of the Moore and McIntyre streets neighborhood peppered Loewith and his team of architects and engineers with queries related to traffic levels, the impact of shadows on the quiet residential block, removal of trees, the lack of a social/cultural/economic study on the impact to adjoining residences and school accommodation.
Alma redevelopment revisedjpgConcerns raised by city staff varied from discrepancies in the architectural drawings to clarification needed in the traffic study to the need for more disability parking spots in all three phases of the development.
Phase 1 could begin sometime next year, with each phase of the 400-unit undertaking requiring two years to complete.
While it was indicated traffic levels were well within the functional limits of the neighbourhood, city staff questioned why, according to the developer’s traffic study, the majority of traffic exiting the Alma property along McIntyre Street would exit southbound onto Ross Street instead of heading north.
Likewise, the traffic study showed the majority of traffic exiting north on Moore Street would turn west on Wellington Street instead of east, prompting staff to question the rationale behind these findings.
Dawn Doty, a resident of McInytre Street, questioned Loewith as to why a proposed access road into the development off Wellington Street, adjacent to the London & Port Stanley Railway tracks, was no longer part of the submitted plan.
Such a route, stressed Doty, would cut down the flow of traffic on the narrow portion of Moore Street, which has become a shortcut for motorists looking to avoid the traffic signals at Ross Street.
almafrontgatejpgDelving into the impact of shadowing along McIntyre Street with Phase 3 of the project, resident Dawn Doty noted, in mid-December, several residences potentially would be shaded for more than six hours per day while the accepted standard is at least 50 per cent of any property should be in full sun for the equivalent of four hours per day.
As to why the City of Waterloo Shadow Study criteria was submitted for this proposal, city planner Pat Keenan advised neither St. Thomas nor London have such criteria.
Sue Fortin-Smith of St. Thomas, a registered professional planner and former chair of the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee, raised concerns about school accommodation for families moving into the three towers.
As part of the planning process, Keenan noted the area school boards were notified of the proposed development and “no concerns were raised.”
As to trees on the property alongside McIntyre Street, Loewith said these were to be removed and replaced to meet city standards.
Which prompted Lara Leitch, former vice-principal of Alma and former president of the Alma College International Alumnae Association, to remind city staff and the development proponents many of those trees were planted by students graduating from Alma.
She is worried that soon “there will be no trace of the past and that is a great shame.”
St. Thomas architect Ed van der Maarel wondered whether seven to nine-storey buildings “are good for the community.”

Patriot Properties new proposal

An artist’s rendition of the new Patriot Properties proposal for the Alma College property.

He cautioned, “the project will end up as a Toronto subdivision,” although it has the potential “to be a beautiful project.”
And, Russell Schnurr, chairman of the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee, pointed to a similar development in Stratford which, at four stories, “fits into the community.”
“There is a better balance with the existing neighbourhood. The height of the buildings doesn’t take into account the concerns of the neighbourhood.”
Steve Cornwall, representing Loewith at the meeting, explained the Patriot Properties plan “has been refined over time” and “theoretically it could change. But it is unlikely to be significant changes.”
As to the amount of parking to be made available to residents and visitors, Loewith stressed: “there are more parking spots than required by the city.”
His intention is to have a ride-sharing program on-site utilizing electric cars to cut down on the number of vehicles requiring parking spaces.
“It’s a balancing act we are trying to get right,” conceded Loewith, who added, “additional parking can be added in Phase 2 and 3.”
While Loewith had hoped to begin initial work this fall, the city’s director of engineering Justin Lawrence cautioned “no servicing can begin until the site plan is in place.”
In the meantime, city manager Wendell Graves indicated the site plan control committee will meet again before forwarding its report to council.
“We need to be sure of those technical pieces before it goes to council. It will depend on when the (developer’s) team and their consultants can get the information back to us.”
Graves reiterated the outstanding concerns emanating from this week’s meeting deal with the impacts of shadowing and traffic in addition to the necessity of removing trees bordering McIntyre Street.
Patriot Properties logoOf course, commencement of work on the Moore Street property is contingent upon rescinding a 2008 Ontario Municipal Board order requiring any development on the Alma property to “include a faithful and accurate representation of the front facade of the college building.”
In September, city council unanimously endorsed a motion to initiate the process.
Prior to that vote, Loewith had urged council to support “removal of the OMB order” and accept his plan for the “thoughtful interpretation and articulation of the historical significance of this lost institution.”
Graves indicated to City Scope “the legal documents are still being prepared for that. There are a whole bunch of streams that are going in parallel here.”
Once submitted, Graves noted there is no way to predict how long it might take for Environment & Land Tribunals Ontario – which adjudicates matters related to land use planning, environmental and heritage protection, property assessment, land valuation, and other matters – to have the OMB order removed from the Alma property.

Related posts:

Alma College facade a non-starter; will the amphitheatre now be off limits to the community?

Facade replication . . . the critical consideration in Alma property development

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11 thoughts on “Casting a shadow over development of Alma College property

  1. The plan as shown in the City Scope column, shows all 3 buildings to be 7 stories in height. As an attendee at the site plan meeting, I’m sure the word ‘condo’ was used at one point by the developer. Is this then the rationale for a gated community? My concern is the constantly changing scope of the project. The incoming City Council will have to determine whether or not this development serves all the residents of the City or only the residents of the development.


    • This is private property, why do you think it should be wide open to the public??


      • The initial plan as presented was to allow the public access to the trails within the development and to the amphitheatre. At no time was a gated community mentioned mentioned, nor was the term ‘condos’ ever used. As noted in my original comment, my concern is the ever changing scope of the development. Please refer to the beginning of the City Scope column which quotes the original intent from the February meeting..


      • Again, it is private property. Imagine the liability issues with the amphitheatre. When Alma College was there, the public was not welcome to wander around the property either. The new development will be a condo development with all the condos owned by the developer and rented out. As such, the owner can put in place whatever restrictions he wants. I think the owner has gone above and beyond to try to accommodate the Alma College Alumnae (who are overwhelmingly in favour of this development) and the citizens of St Thomas who, based on comments, also seem to be looking forward to getting on with it. I hope no more roadblocks are thrown up. Every new development plan evolves. This is a good thing for St Thomas.
        Donna Robertson, President
        Alma College International Alumnae Association


  2. Although i’m pleased to see the developers and architects are doing what they can to acknowledge the heritage of Alma College with this planned development I think that regardless of it being a private community the amphitheatre should have some public use. Whether that be through charters or special events similar to what was done when the college was in operation. The amphitheatre I know had been used for weddings, graduations, community theater and other events in the past and I hope that if the amphitheatre can be updated with modern accessibility that it could have that use again. The ampitheatre is important, not just as the major surviving feature of Alma College, but also a unique feature in St. Thomas. In 1933 the Associated Screen News filmed a may day ceremony at Alma College for a newsreel and at the opening of the film the narrator described the amphitheatre as “the only one of its kind in the dominion” (Canada). Hopefully something can be worked out for the community to have some access and use for the old amphitheatre.


  3. The larger group of Alma Alumnae under the leadership of Lara Leitch are not in favour of the development proposed by Michael Loewith. Instead they support the replication of the Alma College facade as established by the Ontario Municipal Board Orders and “Applicable Law”. Many of the Citizens of St Thomas support the OMB decision as well. We are not against developing the site but have concerns about the changes to the scope and description of the project presented at each meeting. There are other concerns as well. I agree with Joe Docherty and Ryan Belanger.


    • Sue, well said. I am a former Alma grad and feel the public should have say and access. There should be a sensitivity towards history and national heritage and the thousands of lives the College touched from the students far and wide, the primary school, the educators and admin staff and families and visitors. The last that should be done is bring the amphitheatre back and maintain trees that are on the property as several were planted by students. The facade would be lovely for sure. No one is asking to reconstruct the glorious building. Also, one can’t speak for so many people that were touched by the presence and magic of that building.


      • Yes, many opinions out there. I think the developer is going above and beyond to respect Alma history.


  4. The Alma College International Alumnae Association represents all 800 + Active Alumnae. There is a very small group, who would like to see the facade replicated and that is to be expected in such a large membership. Efforts to split the Alumnae will not succeed. We are united by our memories of our lives at Alma and who we have become as a result. It is sad that she is no longer standing but we choose to remember her as she really was.
    We feel that the best way to keep her memory alive is by providing a Scholarship in her name to a St Thomas student going on to post secondary education. We have done that now for 9 years. Currently we are growing our Fund in order for it to become an Endowment. That will allow us to continue the Scholarship, FOREVER. Anyone interested in contributing can contact the London Community Foundation. 519 667 1600 ext 207
    Toujours en Avant is Almas motto, so lets get on with it ! Hope to see many Alumnae at our Annual Reunion in June.


  5. OMG ! When are these people going to drop this opposition.Life goes on ladies.Time marches on.If you must be involved get your alumni scattered around the world to start a go fund me and buy the property or drop it.If I were the developer I would have left this small thinking community months ago.


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