From ‘beyond broken’ to a transit system St. Thomas can be proud of

city_scope_logo-cmykTransit was a prominent talking point leading up to last year’s municipal vote and now, thanks to provincial funding, city residents may soon be standing at a bus stop of “a transit system we can all be proud of.”
At an announcement Thursday (Aug. 8) in front of city hall, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek indicated the provincial government is committing $1.8 million for transit projects in St. Thomas.
The money will be used for fleet upgrades – including the purchase of 10 new buses with an additional four vehicles for future expansion – and transit technology, including priority signalling for buses at designated intersections.
In addition, the transit projects are being nominated for federal funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), a $30 billion, 10-year infrastructure initiative cost-shared between federal, provincial and municipal governments.

“I know that improving transit in the City of St. Thomas has been a key priority for Mayor Joe Preston and his council,” noted Yurek.
“We all want to see St. Thomas continue to grow and evolve,” he added. “We’re investing in infrastructure that will create jobs, build for the future and keep pace with growing communities like this one.”

Transit funding jpg

Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, left, and St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston announced the provincial government will invest $1.8 million in transit projects in the city.

“We’ve been talking a lot about transit in St. Thomas and what we need to do to get people working, moving to work and school and moving around our community from a recreational point of view.”
When asked about expanding transit outside the city limits, Preston noted, “We’re not done with transit, but this is a fantastic, great first step in moving the people who are citizens of St. Thomas around inside St. Thomas.”
He continued, “It is still our goal with myself and the mayors around us, including the mayor of London, to work on regional transportation as another addition.”
There has been talk in recent years of the need to expand transit service beyond St. Thomas into Central Elgin to service the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care on Sunset Drive.
As to a complete transit overhaul, Preston advised “We will be looking at where our routes go and how our routes run. None of those decisions are done yet.
“We can now look at our transit from every side. Do we run straight routes, do we use on-call buses? We will do a better job of getting people around our community.”
The city is undertaking, in partnership with Stantec Consulting, a public survey to develop a strategic plan that will identify the future route for St. Thomas Transit.
The consultants conducting the survey note, “With your feedback, we aim to develop a transit service to better serve you and to get you to where you need to go more quickly, easily, and comfortably.”
Preston indicated the city likely will stick with bus models similar to those already in service, rather than larger transit buses employed elsewhere.
“I think we are going to stick with a system that works best for a city our size and routes. I think you’ll find us using the type of buses we are currently using. I don’t think our community needs buses much bigger than that.”

“St. Thomas deserves a transit system we can all be proud of.”

By comparison Stratford – with a population of 32,000 in 2016 – operates seven routes with a fleet of 14 full-size transit buses with evening and weekend service.
Similarly, Woodstock with a population of just under 32,000 in 2017, utilizes full-size buses on six routes with evening and Saturday service.
As for hours of service, Preston stressed it is his dream “to be seven days a week until late in the evening so our commercial, business and industrial traffic can use transit in a far greater way. We believe this will let us do that.
“St. Thomas deserves a transit system we can all be proud of.”
Remember, it was just last September at a mayoral candidate town hall forum that Preston elicited laughter when he admitted he tried to hop a bus but it was after 6:30 in the evening.
“We have a transit system we can’t count on,” Preston added. “The stores are open to 9 p.m. but the buses stop at 6:30 p.m.”
He concluded, the system “is beyond broken.”

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Have you visited the city’s newest attraction?
That would be the wave-action sidewalk on Holland Avenue.
The undulating concrete walkway on the east side of the road surely must be a boon for boarders and roller bladers.
Holland Avenue sidewalkjpgWe’re not sure why the sidewalk does not have a normal profile or whether this is the city’s way of bringing a little pizzaz to pedestrians traversing Holland Avenue.
Although plowing in the winter could present challenges.
Take a look at the photo and you’ll see no expense was spared on landscaping either side of the feature.
According to city manager Wendell Graves, the roller coaster will likely be a topic of discussion at Monday’s (Aug. 12) council meeting.
“We’ve had comments about that,” confirmed Graves, “so I think, at this point, we’ll have Justin (Justin Lawrence, director of environmental services) make some comments about the technical pieces of that sidewalk in terms of the depth of the gas main they were working with.”
Graves indicated it is his understanding “the gas main is pretty shallow through there. The sidewalk meets standards . . . but the contours of some of the properties there are all over the board too.
“That is a new sidewalk. There hadn’t been a sidewalk there before.”
As Charlie Rich sang in his 1977 hit, when you’re hiking along Holland you just “keep on rollin’ with the flow.”


If you purchased a home at Lake Margaret, you no doubt signed a restrictive covenant with Doug Tarry Limited that, among other things, dictates “the purchaser shall not use any building erected on a lot for any other purpose than as a private residence and no such building shall be used for the purpose of a profession, trade, employment or business of any description.”
A group of area residents – led by John O’Reilly – have used that restriction as the basis for their opposition to a childcare facility run out of the home of Patricia Riddell-Laemers at 18 Hickory Lane.
At the second committee of adjustment hearing held this past week to address an application for a minor variance needed to operate the childcare centre, the neighbours found out in no uncertain terms that covenant may not be worth the paper it is written on.
The committee’s decision to approve Riddell-Laemers’ application raises the question as to whether the covenant is relevant when there is a conflict with the city’s official plan which does allow for the operation of such a facility?
The group of residents who were under the impression they would be permitted to present closing arguments were stunned to learn minutes prior to commencement that they were to remain silent.
And, the fact neither the applicant nor her agent Bob Hammersley were present for the committee’s determination, left the distinct impression the decision had been a foregone conclusion and allowing O’Reilly to present his case at the opening hearing July 11 was nothing more than a charade.
Putting aside the fact the property in question does not meet minimum requirements for lot area, frontage and front yard depth – requirements of the city’s zoning bylaw for a childcare centre – and questions raised by neighbours regarding parking availability, the committee approved the application for the childcare care facility which has already been in operation for months.
So, you can understand the frustration of neighbours, all of whom signed the covenant with Doug Tarry Homes.
Especially in the case of O’Reilly, whose verbal outburst upon hearing the decision prompted an email from city clerk Maria Konefal warning him such behaviour will not be tolerated and any repeat will result in a ban from city hall.
An attempt by the group to appear before city council Monday as a deputation was denied.
Their only recourse is a meeting with Doug Tarry to determine the enforceability of the restrictive covenants and who has that authority.
Otherwise, did they purchase their homes under false pretense and why are purchasers still required to sign the document?

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Aside from city hall, this Talbot Street building is surely the most attractive and prominant structure in the downtown core.
At Monday’s (Aug. 12) meeting, council will be asked to designate the Mickleborough Building at 423-427 Talbot Street under the Ontario Heritage Act.

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Mickleborough Building on Talbot St. in St. Thomas.

The recommendation comes from the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee (MHC).
Now owned by the city as the current home of the St. Thomas-Elgin branch of Ontario Works, the magnificent edifice – previously owned by London developer Shmuel Farhi – is located in the downtown Heritage Conservation District.
It was purchased in 2017 and, at that time, had an appraised value of $4 million. The Mickleborough building dates back to 1903 and was designed by St. Thomas architect Neil Darrach.
Other examples of Darrach’s work include city hall and Wellington Street Public School, both of which have historical designations.
Under the deal, Farhi Holdings was to donate $2.3 million in exchange for a tax receipt and the city would pay the remaining $1.7 million.
The intent was to have the city apply to Infrastructure Ontario for financing, with payments to be offset by the existing lease payments to Farhi.

“These features enhance Talbot Street’s overall sense of rhythm, offering a pleasant pedestrian streetscape.”

Following the purchase, the original plan was to convert some of the space into apartment units on the second and third floors.
Since then, city manager Wendell Graves has advised, “We did some analysis on a conversion and because of the physical composition of the building, the renovation costs just didn’t justify the apartment use.”
Instead the aim is to partner with the Central Community Health Centre in hopes of consolidating their operations into the structure that once housed the British mainstay Marks and Spencer in the 1970s and Huston’s Fine Furniture into the 1990s.
The MHC stressed the property is “in good condition” and any repair and maintenance “should ensure the protection of the original design, materials and finishes of the building.”
In the conclusion to its report, the MHC notes “the building incorporates traditional downtown building features, including matching building heights and being located directly on the front property line.
“These features enhance Talbot Street’s overall sense of rhythm, offering a pleasant pedestrian streetscape.”
In other words, it’s a gem worthy of designation.

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