Evident by the questions raised by a couple of councillors at Monday’s (March 15) meeting, the Alma College Square development still generates concern even while the skeleton of Phase 1 reaches skyward.
While council did approve amendments to the plans for the three-tower residential development, unanswered questions remain.
Issues revolve around traffic flow, the final colours of the structures, why the site plans seemed to be in a constant state of flux, Community Improvement Plan funding and, most puzzling of all, why was a Wellington street access to the former Alma College property nixed?
Developer Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties, at times, added to the confusion, in particular as to what shades and hues the exterior of the buildings will wear.
Coun. Jeff Kohler perhaps put it best when he observed, “I’m certainly not going to accept buying a red car when I ordered a blue one.”
A reference initially alluded to by Coun. Steve Peters.
To which Loewith responded, “You’re one hundred per cent right. The building doesn’t look anything like what we presented. Or anything like what we’re planning on creating.
“Some of the precast comes from the manufacturer with primer on it which does not represent the final look. Later on this year it will be stained to the proper colours.”
Loewith went on to stress, “People say to me you sold me a bill of goods and you’re not delivering on it. This isn’t a condo building that I’ve pre-sold.
“And, I’ve got all of the deposits and I’m heading out of town. This building is 100 per cent financed by me. I have zero tenants as of right now.
“I’m not signing leases until I have model suites to show people. I’m taking a 100 per cent chance that I’m creating something that I’m going to be to sell to recoup my investment.
“So, there’s nobody more motivated on the face of this earth than me delivering a beautiful building and a building we promise to deliver.
“You have to give us time, there is no bait and switch.”
Coun. Peters tabled perhaps the most critical question of the evening.
“This is an amendment that’s being made to the original site plan. In the future, should there be changes in buildings two or three contemplated for whatever reason, does this mean the developer can come back and make further amendments to the site plan committee report?”
And then Coun. Gary Clarke doubled back to the disappearing Wellington Street access which would have alleviated traffic flow issues on Moore and McIntyre streets, both of which are very narrow roadways.
Scrapping that access “was our decision, not the developers from what I understand.”
To which Justin Lawrence, director of environmental services responded, “Yeah, the Wellington concept was discussed very early in the project and it was determined, yes probably by the city and with site plan control and the developer that wasn’t going to happen.”
A lot of talk on this evening about concrete, however, that was far from a concrete answer to Coun. Clarke’s question.
The Wellington Street access remains a puzzle.
And finally, from Coun. Kohler, “If there is a significant change or it’s definitely different than what we voted on in the beginning, does council still have the option to exercise termination of the CIP (Community Improvement Plan) agreement . . .?
“I don’t envision that happening, but I just want to make sure a vote today isn’t going to change that.”
At stake with the CIP is several million dollars in development and property-related charges.
City manager Wendell Graves clarified the status of CIP funding.
With the project proceeding in three phases, Graves explained “As each phase comes on stream, the apportioned portion of that CIP funding that is allotted to say, Phase 1, would be released.
“We would come back to council with a report saying they have the occupancy in the building and we’re prepared to start releasing the CIP funding.
“And, that can be monitored straight through the project.”
So, that concern certainly has a safety net.
On a recorded vote, councillors Peters and Lori Baldwin-Sands were opposed to approval of the site plan control committee recommendation.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO OUR ACTIONS NOW
This week’s Southwestern Public Health COVID-19 update brought much cause for optimism tempered with cautionary overtones from medical officer of health, Dr. Joyce Lock.
She opened with the good news there are no outbreaks in any long-term or retirement homes in the health unit’s region “and that’s a first in quite a few months.”
You had to know there was a significant ‘however’ as a follow-up.
Noted Dr. Lock, “However, cases are steadily rising in our region. We are almost double the number of active cases we had a week ago.”
She advised there are outbreaks in workplaces and schools within the region.
“We are also seeing outbreaks associated with social gatherings.”
She continued, “Our actions now determine whether we get moved into a more restrictive zone or get locked down again.”
“The first dose of vaccine provides very good protection from COVID-19 all on its own.”
Dr. Lock confirmed about 40 per cent of the cases now in the province are variants of concern.
“In our region, we’ve had at least 18 COVID-19 positive individuals screened positive for a variant of concern.”
Two of those have been confirmed as the U.K. variant.
Since the midweek briefing, the variant number has increased to 28.
Variants of concern have more significant effects.
“These variants spread more easily and can sometimes make your disease more severe so that you may more readily need to go into the hospital.
“Some of the variants also affect how well the vaccine will work.”
In the province now, all positive COVID-19 test results are screened for a variant, advised Dr. Lock.
And then the variant is identified, however, that process can often take a couple of weeks.
“Containing the spread of the variants is a very significant focus of our case and contact management at the moment.”
On the upside, the two mass immunization clinics went active this week in St. Thomas and Woodstock.
“We have a fairly modest supply of the Pfizer vaccine this week,” admitted Dr. Lock.
Monday through Wednesday of this week almost 600 doses were administered each day.
“By next week we will almost double those daily doses.”
The interval between doses has increased to 16 weeks from four weeks so that more people benefit at a quicker rate.
“The first dose of vaccine provides very good protection from COVID-19 all on its own,” assured Dr. Lock.
And yesterday, the health unit announced beginning Monday (March 22) it will start accepting vaccination bookings for those in the 75 to 79 age bracket.
SEX AND THE SINGLE SWAN
Following up on last week’s item on the lone trumpeter swan biding its time at the Pinafore Park compound, you would have thought council would unanimously approve the motion from Adrienne Jefferson, supervisor of parks and forestry, to donate the remaining swan to a wildlife rehabilitation program “where it can spend the remainder of its life living alongside other swans and wildlife.”
But no, councillors Jim Herbert and Mark Tinlin were in opposition.
Explained Coun. Herbert, “I think it’s just a nice thing to have swans at Pinafore Park.”
He made a comparison to the attraction of the swans in Stratford.
“Personally, I’d like to see not just two, but four. I would hate to give up that (breeding) program.”
Even though Jefferson noted last week in her report to council the last trumpeter swan cygnet hatched on June 26, 2013. That was the first offspring produced since 2004.”
Not exactly an overwhelming success at breeding trumpeter swans, especially since the remaining female died two years ago.
A basic sex education class should be enough to tell you a lone male is going to have considerable difficulty contributing to the breeding program.
As Coun. Peters observed, because of the encroaching development over the years around Pinafore Pond “that the habitat that was once there for those swans just isn’t conducive to them.”
Coun. Tinlin gave no reason for his opposition.
The above-mentioned Adrienne Jefferson was in the spotlight for a considerable length of time at Monday’s meeting, in particular with her comprehensive report on a lighting policy for the city’s recreational trails.
A significant consideration as the city has over 40 parks and 30 kilometres of trails, noted Jefferson.
The most popular venue, Pinafore Park, averages 12,380 users per month while the Orchard Park Trail from Southdale Line to Elm Street and the London & Port Stanley rail trail (known as the Whistlestop Trail) stretching from Sunset Drive to Kains Street both average around 6,000 per month.
Jefferson advised council, “Lighting the entire multi-use trail network is not recommended, however, there may be some locations along primary multi-use recreational trails where lighting may be appropriate.”
Of particular note, Jefferson cautioned “a trail should not be only partially lit between access points as this can create hazardous situations for trail users expecting a trail to be fully lit. In other words, if part of a trail cannot be lit, the rest of the trails should not be lit.”
Lighting trails is a costly exercise, advised Jefferson, ranging from $98,000 to $275,000 per kilometre including cabling, transformers, power supply and fixtures and solar installations.
She recommended, “recreational trail lighting projects be implemented only where users can have a reasonable expectation of safety when accessing parkland and facilities.”
She continued, “Lighting in city parks where there is little or no witness potential, where escape routes or options are limited, or where hidden pockets of criminal activity can occur, can create a more serious problem than what we intended to reduce or eliminate.”
With council approving her report, the next step will see staff begin “a review of the L&PS trail running north-south from Wellington Street to Elm Street. Once all information is gathered, a report will be brought back to council with the findings of the evaluation criteria and any associated costs for council’s direction.”
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