“Yes, the downtown is a mess.”
Realtor Mark Hindley stated what is patently clear to those who continue to support downtown merchants.
The comment was one of many frustrated business owners aired this past Thursday (Nov. 25) in an information session via Zoom on managing the city’s homeless.
Participants included city representatives, St. Thomas Police, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Inn Out of the Cold, Southwestern Public Health, St. Thomas Elgin Social Services and Earl Taylor from the Downtown Development Board.
As Taylor advised, a number of social issues continue to occur in our downtown that are affecting our businesses and properties.
Homelessness, crime, mental health issues, drug addiction, sharps disposal and garbage continue to affect our downtown.
Hindley continued, “I agree that there’s addiction and mental health issues and some of it is just plain disrespect.”
Quite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March. Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley. Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring. “The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves. In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.” Did you catch the common theme here? Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager. Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council. After all, isn’t that why we elect them?
Councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Joe Preston and city manager Wendell Graves this past Monday. Push forward with the construction of an 88-space downtown childcare centre in an expedient fashion. Preston responded as he has in the past, by deflecting. In his report to council, Graves recommended retendering the project this fall with construction to be completed by the end of next year. The reason for the delay in going out to tender, advised Graves, is an increase in costs in the neighbourhood of $300,000 when the project was tendered last month. Putting the cost estimate in the $4.3 million range whereas just over $4 million has been budgeted for the badly needed childcare facility to be located on St. Catharine Street. “Childcare spaces in our community are desperately needed,” reminded Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “and I believe once we start coming out of COVID a little more rapidly, the people who are going to be requiring the service of daycare is going to be growing exponentially.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek points to a “a gap in the system.” He is referring to the situation of unlicensed group homes like Walnut Manor, shut down this week by Southwestern Public Health until all health and safety violations are remediated. “I think we’ve acknowledged that across the board,” continued Yurek in a conversation Thursday (July 8).” We asked him about Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, in December of 2019, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor and others owned and operated by SupportiveLiving.ca. The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
Fishing and canoeing are now permitted activities at Lake Margaret after Monday’s (May 10) 6-3 vote in support of a couple of motions brought forward by Coun. Gary Clarke. The turn of events caught city staff off guard as no policies are in place, let alone any signage or launch areas for watercraft. In speaking with city clerk Maria Konefal this week, her initial advice is “stay tuned.” She added, “We’ll have a plan that will be coming forward so people are aware how and where . . .” On Friday the city sent out an advisory of additional items for Monday’s (May 17) agenda including “an overview of measures that will be implemented to provide for non-motorized boating and fishing on Lake Margaret.” Coun. Clarke calls Lake Margaret, “a positive recreational place for the city to add to Waterworks and Pinafore. It has some features those two don’t have, in terms of accessibility.”
Unveiled this past Monday (May 3) by St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry and Lindsay Rice of the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Project Tiny Hope offers just that. Big on hope packaged up in quality, energy-efficient, supportive affordable housing for St. Thomas. The undertaking to take shape at 21 Kains Street, the former home of Elgin Handles, will consist of 20 tiny homes and 20 units in a three-storey apartment building. A dream come true for Tarry, who enthused you can’t beat the location. “You’re five minutes from everything. You’ve got banking, grocery stores and you’re a minute from the trail system. We’re really pumped about this project.” Doug Tarry Limited contributed $280,000 for cleanup of the brownfield site which is expected to begin later this year. He is partnering with the YWCA and Sanctuary Homes of Elgin-St. Thomas. The latter donated $200,000 to purchase the lot.
There are one or two members of council advocating for fishing and non-motorized boats to be permitted on Lake Margaret. Several of their peers have expressed an interest in whether this is even possible from an environmental point of view. But, is council as a whole willing to authorize an expenditure of $50,000 to find out if such recreational activities are feasible? That’s the question Monday night when members delve into a report from Ross Tucker and Adrienne Jefferson from the city’s parks, recreation and property management department. For a sum of $49,245 plus HST, Ecosystem Recovery Inc. of Kitchener will undertake an environmental assessment of the Lake Margaret area. The firm offers a diverse range of engineering services to help effectively assess, manage, and restore sensitive water resources infrastructure, according to their website. Over the past 20 years, two master plans have been created for Lake Margaret, both were conservation-based and both recommended no activity on the lake including swimming, fishing, or recreational watercraft.
A total of 88 critically needed childcare spaces in the city have just evaporated into thin air. Along with the spaces, $2.6 million in provincial funding – in hand – now has to be returned as the city has been unable to not only complete the project, it hasn’t even put a shovel in the ground. And ultimately, you have to double back to the comment from city developer Peter Ostojic, why is the city involved in building affordable housing units themselves? Peter and his brother Joe have completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer. “If the joint goal of our community is to provide as much affordable housing for people (as possible), it is important that the private sector be the primary delivery agent,” advised Peter more than a year ago.” So, what have childcare spaces to do with affordable housing? Let’s join the dots. Phase 2 of the social services hub at 230 Talbot Street was to include additional affordable housing plus a childcare facility. Back in July of 2019, city manager Wendell Graves admitted the cost of construction per residential unit was projected to be “fairly high” at $290,515 per unit.
While the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in long-term care homes across the province, you only have to look at first-rate facilities like Elgin Manor and Valleyview Home to witness the flip side of the pandemic coin. Neither facility had a confirmed case of COVID-19 and we talked at length with Valleyview administrator Michael Carroll about that and he credits the loyal staff and ongoing support from the city. “The staff here are excellent,” observed Carroll. “They are providing great care to the residents. They are very diligent in protecting themselves when they are out in the community.” Elaborating on diligence Carroll notes, “They are very diligent in ensuring that they are screening themselves for any symptoms of COVID-19 or any sickness for that matter. “They’re calling in, they’re getting tested and staying home to not bring anything into the home.” Continue reading →