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.
We’ve all seen ads like these featuring some product with the disclaimer, ‘May not be exactly as pictured’ or ‘Object appears larger for display purposes’. Seems that may be the case with Phase 1 of the three-tower residential development rising up on the former Alma College property. The renderings of the apartment buildings appear different than the original site plans approved by the city. That was the focus of a lengthy Q&A during the Feb. 12 meeting of the site plan control committee held online with city staff and developer Michael Loewith and his team. The bone of contention was whether the approved permit drawings for the Phase 1 building are substantially in conformance with the site plan agreement. Absolutely not, argued Alma College watchdog Dawn Doty – who lives right across the street – and architect Ed van der Maarel, also a neighbour of the grandly named Alma College Square. The 156-unit Phase 1 is scheduled for completion in 2022. Doty has a front-row seat on what is transpiring on the Moore Street property and she noted during the meeting, “Looking at the original site plan drawings, what I’m seeing outside my window is tremendously different than what I first saw. Would you agree with that?”
So, what do you do with a vacant downtown church that is described as “an exemplary building representing the economic, cultural and architectural values of the City of St. Thomas?” And, how does the city protect this architectural gem now that it is on the selling block? City council on Monday (July 13) is being asked to to allow administration to begin the notice of intent process to declaring the vacant Trinity Anglican Church at 55 Southwick Street a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act. The current owner (the Anglican Diocese) is not considering designation at this time, and why would they? That move would certainly impact the sale of the property. The church was officially opened on May 27, 1877, built to replace Old St. Thomas Pioneer Church on Walnut Street.
In a move “to ensure the city has a police service accountable to those they serve,” the St. Thomas Police Service will soon undertake a pilot project to evaluate the use of body cameras. The decision to proceed with the test was approved Wednesday by the Police Services Board, advised chairman Dave Warden. He continued, “The St. Thomas Police Services Board supports building public trust, community support and enhancing officer safety and public safety.” We caught up with Police Chief Chris Herridge the next day for insight into the partnership with Axon Public Safety Canada, which supplies the service with Tasers. The critical first step, stressed Herridge, is the trial run with a limited number of officers over a yet-to-be-determined period of time.
It is being billed as your online, one-stop, mid-week shopping solution offering an amazing selection of fresh, locally grown produce. But, that is only half the story. While you shop at CULTIVATE Virtual Farmers’ Market, you are supporting the young people at the Talbot Teen Centre in St. Thomas. Vicki Asher, teen centre manager, says the virtual market is an opportunity for local youth to learn and build valuable life skills by being involved in the day-to-day operation of a small business while connecting them to local farmers. She explains the participating vendors will set up the stores within the website as if they had a stall at a typical market.
It was a particularly effervescent Joe Preston who took to the podium this past Wednesday for the area mayor’s luncheon at St. Anne’s Centre. Sharing the spotlight with Southwold Mayor Grant Jones and Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn, Preston was not only bubbling over with enthusiasm, but he also came in three minutes under the allotted 10-minute time slot. And, made a promise of better city transit by the end of this year, guaranteed. Preston opened with, “St. Thomas, what a great place to be the mayor.” He continued, “I have been mayor for little over a year and it’s been an extra-special time.” After thanking the city councillors, he observed, “Boy, do we employ some pretty good people . . . I’m here to tell you’re in pretty good shape. “We’re in good shape at being able to run this community in an efficient way with smart people doing it.”
With the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes. Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief. While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters. In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council. Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”
Four months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin. And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside. In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice. Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.” Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.
Size does, in fact, matter. That was the finding back in 2003 of what was known as the McCarthy-Tetrault report, a full and independent review of the council of the day and its working relationships at city hall. The initial call for a review of council and staff dated back to April 28 of that year when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.” The subsequent report categorized council as “dysfunctional” and its inability to operate in cohesive fashion is “rooted in the mix of personalities . . . . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.” The report’s author, Chris White of the law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, made several recommendations, the most contentious of which called for the reduction in the size of council to seven members from the then-current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.