The Mayor’s Luncheon on Wednesday at St. Anne’s Centre could have been more appropriately billed as A Mayor’s Grilling.
Featuring Southwold Mayor Grant Jones, Central Elgin Mayor Andrew Sloan and St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, all attention was focused on the latter in what proved to be one of the most lively such functions in recent memory.
All because of recently adopted Bill 63, the St. Thomas-Central Elgin Boundary Adjustment Act, 2023.
The bill allows for the annexation of a portion of Central Elgin to the City of St. Thomas so that the latter can assemble a 1,500-acre parcel of land to attract a mega-industrial project to the city.
It has resulted in a bad taste in the mouths of the city’s neighbours and many unanswered questions.
And so when the floor was opened to questions from the audience on Wednesday, you had to know what direction the conversation would take.
First to the microphone was former Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn who needed no warm-up.
New electoral boundaries proposed by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario could have a significant impact on the outcome of federal and provincial elections in both St. Thomas and Elgin.
Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio is quick to admit she has concerns with the proposed re-alignment.
The aim is to have all ridings in the province fairly equal in population, around the 115,500 mark.
The new electoral roadmap was unveiled a week ago and it would see St. Thomas incorporated into a new riding to be known as London South–St. Thomas.
It would stretch north to Commissioners Road and the Thames River, east to Springwater Road to include Belmont and Mapleton, south to John Wise Line and west to Sunset/Westdel Bourne/Wonderland Road, but would not include Lambeth (see map).
The London South-St. Thomas riding has a population of over 120,000 right now, the majority of residents living in London.
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.”
With the drawing to a close this past week of Indigenous History Month and the horrific revelation of more bodies discovered in unmarked graves at another residential school, our conversation with Ray John took on increased significance. He is an impassioned Indigenous cultural teacher at the London District Catholic School Board and with boards elsewhere in the province. He has worked in the education field for more than 15 years and he says the mixed emotions of the past month have had a unifying effect in his Oneida community and within Indigenous communities elsewhere in the country. “You drive up and down in our community and you see so many orange shirts. You see toys out there dedicated to the young ones that are gone. “But there’s a real sense of unity here. It’s not that it wasn’t here before. I think it is more that we are supporting each other.” John has been awarded for working “tirelessly in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation” and he stresses only through engaging in tough conversations will Canadians be able to educate themselves on Indigenous culture and the tyranny of residential schools.
It’s a great question. How are police supposed to keep this community safe when the courts continually release or deal lightly with repeat offenders? Some with dozens of outstanding and fail to comply charges. A revolving door police are stuck in while attempting to deal with a record number of service calls, many involving social and mental health issues. All of which tax police resources at a time when there is a hue and cry to defund police. We presented this to St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge this week – which coincided with the release of the service’s 2020 annual report. A document which revealed a 10 per cent increase in incidents last year while the overall use of force rates for the service dropped by 33 per cent. The report notes, “This is a very strong indicator of officer awareness, de-escalation skills along with education and training capabilities of our officers.” Herridge began the conversation by suggesting, “We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with this issue we are having. It’s been termed catch and release and we have to find a way to protect the victim and how do we look after vulnerable people as well.
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.