From designation to easement: Alma’s heritage rise and fall

Alma College 1891 jpg

Alma College, 1891. Photo courtesy Elgin County Archives.

Exactly one year ago today (Feb. 20), the journey to what is hoped to become the revitalization of the Alma College property began in earnest.
That afternoon, Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties, met for the first time with members of council and staff at the regularly scheduled reference committee meeting to introduce his proposal for the site of the former school for girls at 96 Moore Street.
Currently owned by London developer Gino Reale, the property is bereft of all but a few vestiges of its former life.
Patriot Properties is seeking the go-ahead to construct a trio of residential towers on the Moore Street property. The development is to be completed in three phases over several years and, when finished, will be comprised of 430 apartment units.

The residential development is to occupy approximately seven of the 11 acres which housed the college that officially opened in 1881.
In the first phase, an eight-storey building – 75 feet in height with 155 units – would be completed at the northwest corner of the property.
Alma redevelopment revisedjpgPhase 2 would see a nine-storey building – 92 feet in height – with 167 units built on the southwest limit of the site.
The final phase will be a seven-story structure – 72 feet in height – housing 108 units along the McIntyre Street frontage.
All of this 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.”
Last September, city council unanimously endorsed a motion to initiate that process with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) – 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.


Alma College plaque

In December of 1994, the Moore Street property and all key buildings were designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. The historical significance of the site was also recognized through a provincial plaque.
At Tuesday’s reference committee meeting (Feb, 19), city manager Wendell Graves presented an outline of the proposed heritage easement agreement to be submitted to the LPAT.
Under the agreement, the Moore Street entrance gateway and pillars plus the amphitheatre would have to be preserved.

Alma College amphitheatre 1931

Alma College amphitheatre, 1931. Photo courtesy Elgin County Archives.

Patriot Properties would be responsible for the undertaking of several commemorative features including an outline footprint of the main Alma building; a permanent spire sculpture; a garden commemorating the original landscaped forecourt; and interpretative panels and signage.
In addition, the developer is bound by a letter of credit covering the full cost of the commemorative features; a project time frame must be submitted; and Patriot Properties is responsible for the future maintenance of all items included in the easement agreement.

“It’s not going to be overnight.”

Still to be resolved is the fate of 45 trees – some planted by the girls of Alma – slated to be removed to make way for the development.
Graves advised a landscape and tree plan will come back to council in the near future.
He also indicated the next step will be for council to endorse the framework of the agreement, likely to come before members next month.
An application will then be made to the LPAT for relief from the existing OMB order.
What that process will entail and how much time is required remains the great unknown.
The city’s legal counsel, John Sanders, put it best, “It’s not going to be overnight.”
The decision-making process could entail a formal tribunal to be held in St. Thomas or it could be conducted via a conference call.
Calling it an open book, Sanders explained any easement agreement concerns emanating from the LPAT process could come back to the city and the developer to address.
Should the LPAT rule in favour of the development, that would trigger a series of sequential steps to be undertaken.
The holding provisions of the city’s official plan and zoning would be lifted.
Council would then approve the site plan and confirm Community Improvement Plan funding.
The heritage easement agreement and the site development agreement would be executed.
And finally, Graves indicated, to the best of his knowledge, all costs associated with the heritage easement agreement will be recoverable from the developer.

Related posts:

Area residents to become ‘sacrificial lambs’ in Alma project? – St. Thomas planner Sue Fortin-Smith

Heritage hurdle remaining hold up in Alma College redevelopment?

Gated Alma College development will ‘contribute to the wellbeing of the greater St. Thomas community’

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