She stresses you have to go for it. Even if that means initiating your charge four years ahead of schedule.
Tara McCaulley had hoped to enter municipal politics in 2026, but now she is seeking a seat on city council in the Oct. 24 municipal vote.
McCaulley feels her experience gained over the past 10 years with the Small Business Enterprise Centre and the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation can be put to good use as the city deals with a variety of challenges.
That’s in addition to her experience dealing with all three levels of government.
“I feel this is a good time,” advises McCaulley. “There are lots of exciting things happening in our community and also some challenges.
She stresses the need for affordable housing is a critical priority along with the health of the downtown core and preparing for future growth.
In particular, a spike in housing costs and a declining vacancy rate needs to be addressed.
“Vacancy rates have dropped from 3.4 to 1.9 per cent, which is putting pressure on housing access and affordability.
“Especially for low-income households or those living in poverty.”
A possible solution, suggests McCaulley, is the use of brownfield areas for residential development.
“The city also has a provincial advocacy plan which is things like supporting brownfield sites that are currently looked at for employment lands, but is there a way we could use those brownfield sites such as abandoned rail lands that are located in the city’s core area and in other key locations for residential development?
“They are also calling on the Ontario government to assist with funding 68 units of mid- to highly supportive units in partnership with Indwell.
“As well, you’ve probably heard of the funding for other projects in partnership with YWCA and Sanctuary Homes and CMHA.”
Here is a link to that story we posted in May of last year on the tiny homes undertaking in partnership with Doug Tarry Homes https://ianscityscope.com/2021/05/08/tiny-homes-hold-a-big-vision-for-a-more-vibrant-st-thomas/
McCaulley adds, “And, that continued strong collaboration with all community organizations and all levels of government will be critical to move the dial forward on housing.
“I think we also have to look at other ideas. The city has made some changes recently with regard to converting garages and spaces in your home.
“Is The Inn in the right place? Personally, I don’t think so. And not just because of the impact to businesses, but you know it’s between two bars and there’s no green space. Is that a good space for people who are struggling with addiction and mental health challenges?”
“We have to really look at what we can also do locally and make it easier for people outside of builders to convert and potentially create housing but also revenue for themselves.”
With an intensive focus on downtown St. Thomas, McCaulley concedes that the core area has complex issues.
“There are many organizations that are working incredibly hard supporting our most vulnerable citizens.
“I feel that continued dialogue and increased collaboration between the city, all organizations and the businesses in the downtown core will be required.”
She points out, however, the city has taken positive steps to reduce the rate of homelessness.
“It’s complicated. It’s not as simple as removing it from the core. All our main social services are in the downtown core.
“Is The Inn in the right place? Personally, I don’t think so. And not just because of the impact to businesses, but you know it’s between two bars and there’s no green space.
“Is that a good space for people who are struggling with addiction and mental health challenges?
“The shelter is meant to be an interim solution. The city is working on some pretty significant solutions and it’s not going to happen overnight. You’ve got so many organizations doing incredibly tireless work. There’s a lack of treatment for people struggling with addiction.”
“Not sure. Do I feel like the city went down that path because we are in a bit of a crisis situation and, maybe, didn’t think everything through?
“Possibly. I really think that before we run to other solutions, I truly feel that we need to sit down with business owners, with our service providers that are working with our most vulnerable people.
“People with lived experience and really sit down and figure out how we can make this work until we understand the solution.
“The shelter is meant to be an interim solution. The city is working on some pretty significant solutions and it’s not going to happen overnight.
“You’ve got so many organizations doing incredibly tireless work. There’s a lack of treatment for people struggling with addiction.
“But, the city is taking steps and is seeing a slow, but notable decline (in the number of homeless individuals).”
“We have a pretty vibrant downtown and, like any downtown is, right now, experiencing challenges. I would say that the downtown core is still a great place to be.”
Overall, McCaulley will argue the city’s downtown core is “pretty vibrant.”
“Full disclosure, overseeing the Elgin St. Thomas Small Business Enterprise Centre and working for St. Thomas Economic Development, I get to see it first-hand and I would not agree with that (that the Talbot Street core area is in decline, partly due to the impact of the big box stores in the east end).
“We’re seeing higher rental rates than we’ve ever seen in the downtown core. Pre-COVID we really started to ramp up activity and we have some incredible shops that are bringing people from all over southwestern Ontario.
“We have a pretty vibrant downtown and, like any downtown is, right now experiencing challenges.
“I would say that the downtown core is still a great place to be. Are there people who are concerned and/or are afraid to go downtown?
“Yes, so we really need to look at that and what we can do because there are incredible shops in the downtown.”
With the city’s population projected to surpass the 50,000 mark by 2041, she notes there is a need to ensure the infrastructure is in place.
“That growth is higher than the Ontario average and do we have the infrastructure in place to support that growth?”
Going door to door and meeting constituents will be an important strategy for her campaign.
“I am doing door-knocking, I have a website and I will be doing meet-and-greets.
“But really it’s the door-knocking that’s important and I have a great campaign team, including my five grandchildren who are ready to get out and knock on doors and get to know us a little better.”
There are 16 candidates seeking eight seats on city council in the October 24th election.
You can hear the full interview with Tara McCaulley below.
DO WE NOW HAVE AN AFFORDABLE HOUSING TEMPLATE?
Courtesy of “a lot of back and forth with the developers,” according to Lou Pompilii, director of planning and building services for the city, a minimum of five apartment units deemed affordable will be included in the 14-storey, 162-unit apartment tower to be developed on the south end of the former Timken Canada property near the intersection of First Avenue and Talbot Street.
This was the focus of an item in last week’s post dealing with the development to be undertaken by Fast Forward Ventures of London.
One of their partner companies, Canadian Commercial Development approached the city seeking an amendment to the Community Improvement Plan to be included in the primary Community Improvement Plan Area.
One of the benefits of inclusion is a reduction in property tax increases.
According to Pompilii, “we negotiated an appropriate number (of affordable units). We started with four and settled on five. We don’t want any less than that.”
However, it does set a precedent, something Coun. Gary Clarke alluded to.
“It’s a great start, we now have a template for other developers.”
Mayor Joe Preston picked up on that point.
“Is this setting a pattern going forward for what we may want to do with any large apartment development?
“Perhaps the next council will have to take a hard look at is this the standard. Do we need this many affordable units?
“Can we rebate certain things back to the builder in order to attract large, market-rent apartment buildings to our community?”
‘Our once-thriving downtown core is at a critical threshold’ – St. Thomas lawyer Hilary Vaughan
ONE TO WATCH
Coun. Jim Herbert raised the issue at Monday’s (Sept. 19) council meeting.
What is the time frame for the downtown working group requested at the Sept. 12 council meeting by St. Thomas lawyer Hilary Vaughan?
Mayor Preston assured, “lots has been happening since last Monday.”
He added, “some people involved have not been reached out to yet.”
Much interest on numerous fronts related to this working group.
Especially in light of the municipal election looming one month from today.
The inaugural Summer Harvest Festival kicked off yesterday (Friday) in Pinafore Park minus the trivia competition. As we understand, some teams pulled out for whatever reason and the decision was made to pull the plug on the event.
Nevertheless, having attended the opening ceremony Friday morning, the three-day event has a multitude of events and activities for the entire family.
One item of particular interest – with Orange Shirt Day coming up on Sept. 30 – is the Indigenous area which will be easy to locate, just look for the teepee.
Friday’s kick-off featured a couple of dancers from Indigenous Performers of Southwestern Ontario.
It was an appropriate introduction to the clean and green, end-of-summer celebration offering a weekend of music, food and attractions.
Find out more about the weekend in Pinafore Park at http://summerharvestfestival.com.
FOR THE CALENDAR
The St. Thomas& District Chamber of Commerce is hosting a municipal candidate meet and greet from 4:30 until 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at the CASO station.
All candidates from St. Thomas, Central Elgin and Southwold are invited to participate.
Admission is free.
September 30 is recognized as Orange Shirt Day, an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day inspired by the story of Indian Residential School Survivor Phyllis Webstad.
To honour the children who survived Indian Residential Schools and remember those who did not, many Canadians across the country wear an orange shirt.
There will be a flag-raising ceremony at noon that day in front of city hall.
THE ECHO CHAMBER
Responding to our item last week on Hilary Vaughan’s presentation to city council, Dave Mathers wrote this about striking a working group.
“The problem with ‘striking up a working group’ is that just pushes the problem further down the road.
“It may be time to set up a ‘tent city’ somewhere away from downtown with portable washrooms.
“And definitely remove the needle giveaway program from Talbot Street.
“I’m a pretty big guy and even I can be intimidated by some of the ‘characters’ on Talbot Street.”
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