Proposed residential development on land currently owned by the Elgin County Railway Museum is an opportunity to revitalize that portion of downtown St. Thomas, stresses developer Doug Tarry.
He is proposing to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for a low-rise residential development that would front onto a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street.
We talked with Tarry on Tuesday of this week (Aug. 3) and he stressed nothing is carved in stone at this point as museum members have yet to approve the sale of the property.
He started by noting the museum is a gem and, “There is such an opportunity to incorporate how that building works and what it is being used for and how we can expand that into a real revitalization of the centre of downtown.”
As to what the housing would look like Tarry advised, “We’re talking apartment units and we don’t have a design done yet because we obviously haven’t bought the property yet.
“But we’re also wanting to bring our expertise to the table to help with the museum revitalization.”
That could include fundraising and assisting with access to available dollars to make the museum more sustainable, added Tarry.
“We see it as a sustainability hub that could be built right into our downtown.
“It’s also our part of our intent to create a community park type of setting. Like a walkability park. To really, really limit the impact of parking vehicles.
“And we’re already planning on it being electrified. All our buildings are electric and not gas.”
That would include electric charging stations for vehicles as is the case in the Tarry development at 300 Manor Road.
“We don’t want to build obsolete buildings and it’s a foregone conclusion gas is going to be gone in five to ten years.
“You can see how fast the automotive industry is moving in that direction. And, that’s not lost on us.”
Tarry continues, “We certainly feel we’ve got expertise we can bring to the table. If that building (the museum) doesn’t get work done, it’s going to fall down and the opportunity will be lost forever.
“But it’s a tremendous opportunity to have a huge injection into the city’s downtown. And I think that’s one of the things we’re most excited about. This is just what should happen here. And we need to work with the railway museum to create a comprehensive vision for moving forward.”
“We saw what happened with Alma College, demolition by neglect.
“It’s such a majestic building. And, we want to work with them so you can still get trains in and out. Build upon the legacy they’ve created.”
Tarry reminded of the importance in having people in numbers living downtown.
“It’s a brownfield site, and it’s not insignificant remediation with some dollars required to get it up to speed.
“But it’s a tremendous opportunity to have a huge injection into the city’s downtown. And I think that’s one of the things we’re most excited about.
“We want to continue to build on that legacy of helping our community. It’s such a fantastic opportunity and we think we’ve got it sorted so it will work for both parties.”
“This is just what should happen here. And we need to work with the railway museum to create a comprehensive vision for moving forward.
“We think it’s such a tremendous opportunity for helping both the downtown and the museum.
“And, if not this, then what?”
Tarry opened up about building on all that his firm has accomplished in St. Thomas to date.
“We want to continue to build on that legacy of helping our community. It’s such a fantastic opportunity and we think we’ve got it sorted so it will work for both parties.
“We bring a lot to the table that no other developers would. A big part of that is we understand sustainability better than almost anybody.”
He calls the purchase of land a lifeline to the museum.
“It’s an opportunity to move forward into the next 100 years. It would be such a shame to lose that building.”
The vote on whether to enter into an agreement will be taken by museum members this coming Tuesday.
THE OVERDOSE CRISIS
On Monday’s (August 9) city council agenda is a letter dated July 6 of this year from Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy.
It is in response to a letter sent in November 2020 to mayor and council from Moms Stop the Harm, a Vancouver-based group requesting their assistance in ending the overdose crisis and the toll it is taking on our communities.
Stillitano notes in the period between January of 2016 and September 2020, there were 19,355 opioid-related toxicity deaths in Canada.
“the current approaches to managing this situation have failed to reduce the death toll and should be supplemented with an enhanced and comprehensive public health approach.”
And, the crisis has worsened through the COVID-19 pandemic with the vast majority of deaths being unintentional.
She notes the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues.
“For example,” Stillitano writes, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.”
She continues, “the opioid crisis impacts not only individuals who use substances, but it also has devastating effects on all of the connected communities and families.”
What should be of concern is the statistic Canadian youth “aged 15 to 24 are the fastest-growing population requiring hospital care from opioid overdoses.”
Stillitano advises her steering committee supports the position statement of the Canadian Public Health Association which notes, “the current approaches to managing this situation have failed to reduce the death toll and should be supplemented with an enhanced and comprehensive public health approach.”
“the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.”
Which should address the toxicity of the drug supply across the country through a wrap-around support approach.
This approach refers to access to “a safer opioid supply, full medical and social assessments and access to primary care, housing supports, care navigators and coordinators and veteran peer support workers.”
A major challenge, Stillitano points out, is the stigma associated with harm reduction.
Something this corner has pointed out is clearly evident in the words of some city council members.
She goes on to advise an appropriate response from the federal government “should include providing a safer alternative to people who use drugs, decriminalizing the personal possession and use of drugs and reallocating resources to social and health services and moving resources away from enforcement.”
She cites the examples of Portugal and Norway where decriminalization of all drugs has resulted in a steady decline in overdose deaths and “a staggering decrease in infectious diseases associated with drug use.”
But this approach has to be accompanied by “robust, concentrated public health efforts . . . to be positioned to create societal and attitudinal change.”
Stillitano is calling on the Ministry of Health and the federal government “to realize the true urgency underlying the opioid overdose crisis by recognizing and declaring a public health emergency.”
And, hand-in-hand, there is a need to develop a Canada-wide overdose action plan.
She concludes, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.”
And adds her steering committee supports the mission statement of Moms Stop the Harm, “We advocate to end substance use-related stigma, harms and death.”
A nice post yesterday (Aug. 6) on Serge Lavoie’s Facebook page. He is president of the St. Thomas Elevated Park and it’s been a decade-long labour of love for him.
Here is what he posted.
“After working on this project since 2012, along with a great team of volunteers and contributors, my walk on the Elevated Park today gave me a great sense of accomplishment. “Boardwalk, sidewalk, lawn, public art, and trees in planters are all in place. Sure, there’s more to do, but the park feels complete.”
If you have never taken a stroll along the park in the sky, you owe it to yourself to spend some time up there. Created by the community for the community.
THE READER’S WRITE
No shortage of feedback on last week’s item regarding residential development proposed by Doug Tarry on land to the west of the Elgin County Railway Museum.
Steve Marcinkiewicz checks in with the following.
“They don’t seem to have the money to keep it going. DTH has offered a solution that provides housing in an area that makes sense and helps bail out the museum with funding.”
To which Steve Thomas responds with this.
“According to the article, it would only offer a partial solution to the renovation cost. The ongoing funding stream problems would not be addressed and the land would be gone for good.
“Selling the farmland to keep the farmhouse at best only kicks the can down the road. It will be a sad day for St. Thomas if no other solution can be found.”
Ron Bareham, former president of the museum, offers this insight, while adding “Neither of the two plans shown is up to date. Neither is the one under discussion.”
“Concerning the matter of land for special events: Look closely at the sketch. The tracks to the south and west will mostly be removed. However, the yard shown to the north will give a place for showing off railroad equipment and there will also be plenty of land to the south for parking and a track or two as far as the present entrance road which can be used for special displays at events.
“The overall advantage will be that the museum will get some funds from this which will improve our future considerably, even if not enough to improve the building.”
It’s a win on several fronts, writes Rimas Miknev.
“It appears to be a great plan. Win for the museum, win for downtown, win for those desperately seeking accommodations.”
Michelle Auger agrees with the above.
“I’d love to see this come to fruition. Good for the city as a way to maintain the museum, and provide infill building.”
Susan Gerry cautions it is not a good deal.”
“Even though we are crying for affordable housing and this sounds like a grand gesture, the reality is that it will not be a good deal.
“Developers expect a good return on their investments, so the units may be “affordable” in their books, but if utilities are not included, then it becomes a barrier to those on limited incomes/pension.”
Rob Sterne says the proposal presented to museum members for their approval “was very vague.”
“Being a long-time member and volunteer of the museum I am not against SOME development of the property, but what we were presented last week is too much.
“It was very vague with undefined borders without any costs involved with building a new yard which I know for a fact will be extremely costly. There are a lot of unknowns associated with this.
“May I also point out there is a heritage designation only three years old on the existing track, so that would have to be dealt with too.
“The drawing above is not the drawing we were presented with last week. This was a concept drawing shown to us a year ago.”
And Dawn Docker passes along this point to ponder.
“Will the development conform with the St. Thomas Downtown Heritage Conservation District bylaw?”
She includes a link to the document which can be found here.
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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.