St. Thomas is positioned for growth, so let’s talk about it over coffee

city_scope_logo-cmykTo accommodate a projected population in excess of 50,000 by the year 2041, the city will need to adjust its urban area boundary as part of a review of its official plan.
Last June, the city completed a population and housing study which determined the municipality will require an additional 76 gross hectares of residential land to accommodate this growth.
As such, the city is undertaking – with input from residents – a project it identifies as Positioned for Growth.
The study will assemble the required planning and engineering reports to support the preferred expansion lands and bring them into the urban area boundary to designate for development.
In addition, the city will identify recreational and cultural infrastructure and the fire protection services required to support this growth in the coming decades. Continue reading

Casting a shadow over development of Alma College property


Alma College plaque

At a reference committee meeting in February of this year, he promised to build “something that is beautiful” on the 11-acre former site of Alma College.
His proposed development would consist of a trio of seven-storey apartment buildings and the Moore Street property would be laced with a system of pathways, while the iconic amphitheatre would be for the use of “everybody in the community. That’s part of the history of the community and that should be for everybody.”
In the intervening months, the residential undertaking has evolved with one of the towers now pegged at nine stories and the amphitheatre will be for the use of residents and their visitors to the complex.
And, at a site plan control committee meeting Nov. 13, developer Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties suggested the development would be a gated community, putting public access to the trail system and amphitheatre in doubt.

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Complete Streets: Paving the way forward

city_scope_logo-cmykEndorsed Monday by city council, the Complete Street guidelines are “”a shift in mindset from the historical car-centric streets to modern multi-purpose streets that appropriately support all modes of transportation,” advised David Jackson, the city’s manager of capital works.

It’s an ambitious blueprint for the future with an aim to design, create and build streetscapes that accommodate users of all ages and abilities and all modes of transportation including pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit users.

However we could argue there is little clear direction on the latter save for continued road reconstruction to lessen the shake, rattle and roll that hastens the demise of city buses. Continue reading

Survey snafu begs question: Is city getting good value?


An anonymous letter landed in the City Scope in-box this week with an attached sticky note reading, “Nice to see a local business trying to screw the city out of $14K.”
Well, that sure caught our attention – at the same time sending up warning flags as to the motivation for passing along such correspondence.
The letter is a copy of a disciplinary decision from the Council of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (AOLS) relating to allegations of professional misconduct on the part of surveyor Ward Houghton of Houghton + Houghton Inc., St. Thomas.
To summarize, Houghton bid on a city surveying project dealing with the infrastructure needs of Fairview Avenue, from Elm Street to Southdale Line. As part of the project, the city committed to providing the legal survey.
Houghton’s bid of $32,770 lost out to the lowest bid of $18,871 from Callon.Dietz Inc., of London.
Houghton subsequently informed Terry Dietz of Callon.Dietz Inc., that Houghton + Houghton owned all of the copyrights to plans prepared by his firm dealing with the subject area and the cost of supplying copies of such would be approximately $40,000.
As a compromise, Houghton suggested Dietz withdraw his bid and Houghton + Houghton, as the only other bidder, would likely be awarded the project. If such were the case, Houghton proposed to hire Dietz to perform most of the work on the project and pay the London firm the same amount of $18,871.
At first glance this would appear to be somewhat unethical or unprofessional and Dietz complained to the AOLS, leading to a disciplinary hearing.
The crux of the matter is the understanding an AOLS member “has a statutory duty to share surveyor’s field notes for a ‘reasonable fee’.”
The disciplinary committee deemed $40,000 for approximately 200 Houghton + Houghton plans was “far and above what most members of the profession would consider fair and reasonable.”
Speaking to Houghton on Friday, he told City Scope all he is seeking is clarification on what is considered a reasonable sum for work in which his firm owns the copyrights.
Fair enough.
The disciplinary committee proved unsympathetic and slapped Houghton with a $2,500 fine and determined Houghton be required to successfully pass a course in professional ethics at a college or university level.
Ironic in that Houghton has for years served as a lecturer for the AOLS on boundary and survey law.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
In our meeting with Houghton, he produced a copy of the finished drawings submitted to Ric Radauskas, project coordinator for the city’s environmental services department. These drawings were far from complete, Houghton argues, and did not include an OLS seal of certification, as required in the city’s request for quote.
Throwing the accuracy of the Dietz drawings into doubt and raising the question of whether the city obtained true value in accepting the lowest bid of $18,871, an amount Houghton asserts is “a low-ball figure” instead of retaining the services of a local firm city staff has employed on numerous occasions in the past.
If such is the case, then who really screwed the city financially?
We’ll continue to follow this survey snafu to determine if city staff are aware of the the quality of the material they have paid for and accepted.

Earlier this week, the T-J referenced a letter from Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek to Madelliene Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, alerting her of the dramatic deterioration of conditions at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
The closing paragraph of Yurek’s letter is worth highlighting: “This problem will not go away if we ignore it. It certainly won’t go away by muzzling those who are trying to inform the public of the conditions as we saw this weekend with the local OPSEU president being reprimanded for talking to the press.
“That is why I am offering to accompany you on a tour of the whole facility at EMDC. Afterward, we can discuss the issue with staff and management. We need to get the ball rolling before things spiral out-of-control at EMDC.”
We have approached Yurek to request the media be included on the tour and we will continue to stress the need for transparency on this powder-keg that could easily erupt into a full-scale riot in the coming months.

The point was raised in this corner last week as to whether St. Thomas was in the running as a possible home for Texas-based food-distribution giant Sysco, which recently announced it will build a 400,000-square-foot distribution facility in Woodstock which could eventually employ 250-350 people.
A reader mused, “was the St. Thomas brain trust (Economic Development Corp. and city council) even in the game? If not,why not?”
That prompted Grace Northcott to email the following observation.
“Recently the EDC has been given funding from city council to maintain it’s operation because it no longer is self sufficient through real estate sales on land or otherwise. My question is simple, if public funds are supporting this agency why isn’t the public receiving regular progress reports?
“In addition, during the last election most of the candidates stressed jobs and economic development. Is it time aldermen provide a progress report of what they have done to support their promises?
This should not be difficult to do since all of city council is on the board of EDC.”

“This is the most vicious attack on the most vulnerable of our society and, to me, it is unacceptable.”
Elgin Warden Bill Walters at Thursday’s open house to gather information on the closing of the local ODSP office slated for October.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to

Sorry, we’re very busy getting our house in order


It’s a gutsy call . . . turning down an opportunity to have St. Thomas profiled on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Mayor Heather Jackson and other city officials turned thumbs down on feelers from Force Four Entertainment in Vancouver requesting the city consider serving as a backdrop for the second season of Million Dollar Neighbourhood.
Promotional material touting the series gushes, “Million Dollar Neighbourhood is a groundbreaking television series about taking control of finances, the power of community and guiding people toward their best lives.”

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Promoting healthy lifestyle choices for St. Thomas


She’s a master’s student of local economic development and a former resident of St. Thomas who has issued a challenge to the city to embrace alternative modes of transportation.

Tara Smedbol, now a London resident, contacted us recently with two simple ways in which St. Thomas can increase its livability for residents. The first focuses on developing cycling infrastructure and the other is to increase transit options.

This is not a matter of recreational infrastructure, Smedbol asserts, but instead it would increase the options and abilities for residents to be mobile and connected to the city.

“The key to a vibrant city with a vibrant downtown,” she points out, “is activity and movement of people.” She continues: “One tactic to increase activity on the streets is by encouraging walking and bicycling in the downtown core and other areas of the city.

“It is self-explanatory that as someone drives a car less (maybe even giving up a car in favour of other modes of transportation, if they are able to change their commuting patterns) and thus decrease the costs directly associated to owning a car, they increase their disposable income.”
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High-speed rail is coming to the U.S. so when will we get on track in Canada?

It’s one of Obama’s greenest ideas–even though it may be underfunded–but news broke today (April 16-09) that a massive high speed rail is officially on the way. The president’s announcement included an outline of 10 corridors around the US that will each likely see rail begin construction. So buckle up. Obama’s serious about getting our transportation system up to the cutting edge—here’s a guide to his plan, and a breakdown of the cities slated for a high speed transit future.
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Tour the CASO station in St. Thomas with architect, developer, inventor and writer Lloyd Alter

CASO station, St. Thomas

CASO station, St. Thomas

The shortest distance between New York and Chicago runs on the north side of Lake Erie, so the Canada Southern Railway was built in 1872, was bankrupt in 1874, and sold to the Vanderbilts who owned the Michigan Central. The station was the headquarters of the company, and the second floor served as their head offices. The three hundred acres surrounding it were their main shops and yards, making the railroad the economic lifeblood of St. Thomas. Post WWII the MCRR started packing up, was merged into Penn Central, sold off the St. Thomas facilities to Canadian Pacific and Canadian National who abandoned the station, and it started falling apart, a victim of vandals and pigeons.
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Founding Meeting of the St. Thomas-Elgin Chapter of The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario

The St. Thomas-Elgin Chapter of the ACO will hold its founding meeting on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. at the Canada Southern Station (former New York Central Station) located at 750 Talbot St., St. Thomas. The meeting will take place in Anderson Hall, the former station dining room. The station is located behind the Giant Tiger store. All individuals interested in architectural preservation in St. Thomas and Elgin County are welcome to attend. Guest speaker at the meeting will be Cathy Nasmith, president of the ACO and Toronto architect.
The ACO was founded in 1933 “to preserve buildings and structures of architectural merit and places of natural beauty and interest”. Since the 1930s, through advocacy and direct action, the ACO has saved hundreds of buildings across Ontario and raised awareness of preserving community heritage. The ACO operates through a network of branches, linked by an office in Toronto. There are 23 branches across the province and a membership of over 1,200. Last year the ACO and its branches organized or participated in 400 events with a total attendance of over 53,000 people. In addition, board members and volunteers served as representatives on local workshops and planning meetings, researched local heritage issues, and acted as advocates before various levels of government.
Each ACO branch has its own board and its own accounts to manage local affairs. Branches operate with relative independence, focusing on local issues, programming and recruitment. Typically, branches advocate for preservation of local architectural heritage and an increased knowledge of the value of such preservation, its contribution to increased tourism, pride and self-esteem.
For more information on the founding meeting, please contact Laurence Grant at 519-633-2535 /