It has been a significant week for housing news in St. Thomas.
A pair of announcements mid-week covered off a broad swath of the residential spectrum.
At Wednesday’s site plan control committee meeting, conditional approval was granted to Fast Forward Ventures of London for their 14-storey, 162-unit apartment building to rise on the south end of the former Timken Canada property near the intersection of First Avenue and Talbot Street.
The Timken plant closed in 2013 and was demolished and the site cleared in 2017.
The next day, the province announced $3 million in funding to develop 20 supportive housing units inside Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing hub now under construction at 16 Queen Street.
Let’s take a closer look at both developments – which Mayor Joe Preston described as “one more step in attacking the city’s housing shortage.”
In a conversation Thursday with Jeff House of Fast Forward Ventures, he detailed what is envisioned on the Timken property, the north end of which already boasts commercial development.
“The whole site is about 13-and-a-half acres, with the first four acres retail, the second two-and-a-half acres planned for two (apartment) towers to be on it.
“We’re going to start with one (tower) and see how the absorption is as far as rental demand.”
The 162 apartment units will be market-rate rentals, advised House who explained, “to make housing more affordable, we need to add more supply to the market of all housing types.”
Both House and Mayor Preston said residential development on the Timken property is all about location as residents will be within walking distance of most amenities.
House noted, “The goal is for people to kind of be able to have everything right there. From food options to groceries, to get to the bank quick with Libro and TD Bank right there.”
Preston added, “It’s where our transit centre is and within walking distance to all the amenities you could possibly want, including all of downtown.
“And taking up what was a brownfield factory site. This is a win, win, win, win, win. It’s got a bunch to it.”
There are another six acres at the east end of the property, noted House, for further residential and commercial development with the potential for as many as four or five apartment towers in the future.
“You wonder why there is a housing issue province-wide, it’s because there is such a backlog and red tape and pushing paper. You make a phone call in St. Thomas and someone will get back to you because they want to solve the problem. They want to make sure it’s done right.”
House, who lives in St. Thomas with his wife Diana, formed Fast Forward Ventures in 2016 with a focus on helping “investors, builders, developers, tenants and landlords make wise real estate decisions.
They have developed a couple of office buildings in London with other projects on the go in London and Dorchester.
One of his partner companies, Canadian Commercial Development, purchased Sherwood Forest Mall in London and has other projects in Strathroy, Hamilton and Orangeville.
He is quick to credit city staff who were anxious to move the planning process along with a minimum of roadblocks.
“We really have appreciated working with the planning staff, Lou Pompilii (the director of planning and building services) and Joe Preston.
“St. Thomas has really been good to work with. They have been very communicative and helped move things forward.
“You wonder why there is a housing issue province-wide, it’s because there is such a backlog and red tape and pushing paper.
“You make a phone call in St. Thomas and someone will get back to you because they want to solve the problem. They want to make sure it’s done right.
“There are always going to be not-in-my-backyard folks, but the city is growing and I rather it grew with some purpose and plan than just grew.”
“They actually want to help you because they realize it is good for the town. Not throw up roadblocks and make it more difficult.”
Preston says this is just another example of St. Thomas growing “smartly.”
“I know there are other cities out there growing but I just know that we’ve been planning to grow smartly and that is what’s happening behind the scenes.
“There are always going to be not-in-my-backyard folks, but the city is growing and I rather it grew with some purpose and plan than just grew.
“We’re actually accomplishing it in a way we had hoped to accomplish it. With affordable and supportive at one end and single-family homes on the other.
“We can do it all, but we’ve got to be smart and make sure we’re doing it all.”
The first apartment tower should be ready for occupancy within two years.
Shifting focus over to the city’s west end where construction is underway on a four-storey, 45-unit apartment building to be owned and operated by Indwell Community Homes.
Indwell is a Christian-based charity that has built supportive housing for more than 700 individuals in London, Woodstock, Simcoe and Hamilton.
The first joint effort with the city was the construction of the 16 micro-apartments on the second floor of the downtown transit building known as Railway City Lofts.
The Queen Street facility will eventually house the city’s third fire station but that is three to five years down the road.
Preston advised, “This province from an affordable and certainly from a supportive housing side has been incredible in what they’ve been able to help St. Thomas with.
“And since we partnered with Indwell, it’s really made quite a difference in us moving forward.”
The provincial dollars are flowing through the Social Services Relief Fund and will support individuals in need of mental health and addiction supports, people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness and Indigenous Peoples.
Thanks to the partnership with Indwell, advised Preston, the city is developing local solutions to homelessness.
“This lets us move forward to the next project which takes more people from the street, from a homeless or near homeless point of view into housing with supports.
With the back-to-back announcements this week, Preston observed, “We’re attacking housing from each end in St. Thomas.”
The Queen Street facility will include commercial and program space on the ground floor, including a laundry room, nurse station, kitchen and bike storage with the residential units on the three upper floors.
There will be support staff seven days a week and the supports are expected to deal with nutrition, medication, clinical services and peer community support services.
In a release from the funding announcement, Indwell CEO Jeff Neven remarked, “We’ve already seen fantastic community impact from our first program in St. Thomas (Railway City Lofts) and we’re excited about what’s next for our new tenants and the people of St. Thomas.”
The units at 16 Queen Street are expected to be occupied by December of 2023.
LIBERAL ACCLAMATION A DONE DEAL
To follow up on the two items last week on former St. Thomas mayor Heather Jackson’s pending acclamation as the Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London, we approached the Ontario Liberal Party with a request for an interview to ascertain what was involved in declaring the riding open for female nominees only.
We received an email from Will Wuehr, senior communications advisor indicating, “I won’t be able to offer up anybody for an interview.”
“In previous elections, all parties have treated gender parity as an aspirational goal, but under Steven Del Duca’s leadership, we are using real tools to make it a reality.”
Instead, he pawned off an email statement attributable to a party spokesperson.
“Heather Jackson has a fantastic record of public service and is the best person to represent the people of Elgin—Middlesex—London at Queen’s Park.
“As a former mayor, Heather has shown the strong, steady local leadership that Ontario Liberals plan to bring to our province. She will be acclaimed as the Ontario Liberal candidate for Elgin—Middlesex—London on March 21st.
“Ontario Liberals are committed to gender parity in our team for 2022.
“In previous elections, all parties have treated gender parity as an aspirational goal, but under Steven Del Duca’s leadership, we are using real tools to make it a reality.
“So far, women-only designations have been used in 25 ridings to nominate a variety of strong female candidates.
“Steven is building the strong, diverse team needed to beat Doug Ford’s Conservatives and lead Ontario after the 2022 election.”
So much for the political process.
As we noted last week, Central Elgin Ward 2 Coun. Dennis Crevits had filed his nomination papers back in January only to be advised via email of the female-only candidate determination for the riding.
“If it was women only, the local riding association (of which he was acting riding president after St. Thomas councillor Lori Baldwin-Sands stepped down from the post) could have pursued other women to run. And that would have happened had it been pre-determined.”
A frustrating process Crevits called “dirty politics.”
What will the impact be at the ballot box?
ACTION RETURNS TO THE COUNCIL CHAMBER
Pending approval by council at Monday’s meeting (March 22) mayor and councillors will resume in-person meetings at city hall effective April 4.
Members of the public, however, will have to continue tracking the meetings virtually “for the next short period of time as the city monitors and evaluates attendance and safety measures for a subsequent discussion and reinstatement in early June,” according to a report from city manager Sandra Datars Bere.
Beginning Monday, the wearing of masks is optional for all in attendance.
FOR THE CALENDAR
Petrusia Hontar, project manager at St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership this week passed along more details regarding a fundraiser scheduled for Tuesday (March 22) at the CASO station in St. Thomas in support of the Ukrainian people.
The goal of the event is to raise $10,000, advises Hontar “while introducing aspects of Ukrainian culture to the community.”
She continues, the fundraiser will include Ukrainian food samples courtesy of Salt and Pepper Meals and Killder Food, a barbecue hosted by the St. Thomas Kinsmen, crafts, a history talk, a silent auction and a marketplace to buy items in support of Ukraine. The event is licensed and proceeds likewise go to the cause.
Tickets are available here.
For more information, reach out to Petrusia Hontar at email@example.com or 416-557-0299 or Patricia Maki at firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-868-2356.
THE ECHO CHAMBER
Responding to our item last week on Coun. Gary Clarke’s amendment that council require all new parks to be designed to include fully accessible playgrounds and that all replacement of playground equipment at existing parks include accessible playgrounds where possible sparked this response from Carrie Hedderson Smith.
“Garrett Smith (retired member of the St.Thomas municipal accessibility advisory committee) is very glad that the city has finally made decisions to update things for accessibility and bring life for the disabled in wheelchairs into the 20th century.
“Still a long way to go with individual business access but he knows for sure parks are a big hit and wonderful opportunity to get out and get active if you are physically challenged. “Appreciated and then some.
“He hopes it’s as good as Pinafore park where the accessible washrooms are very functional and large enough.
On Heather Jackson’s pending acclamation as the Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial election, Bud Lorch feels this is blatant discrimination.
“The Liberal Party of Ontario’s Steven Del Duca ‘has made a commitment to achieve gender parity for our slate of candidates in the next election.’
“I’m flabbergasted. That would mean that Heather Jackson would be acclaimed automatically unless another female decided to run.
“That’s the way I see it.
“The OPP in the late 1980s decided, in their infinite wisdom, that they would NOT hire any white, Anglo-Saxon males during a ‘parity’ hiring blitz.
“I don’t think that went well, as I recall.”
Dave Mathers, meantime, cuts right to the chase.
“Who does Steven Del Duca think he is, Justin Trudeau? LOL”
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