In a deputation last Monday (Sept. 12) to city council she stressed was devoid of “ill will, malintent or hidden agenda,” Hilary Vaughan hit one out of the park with her no-nonsense presentation on the complex issues plaguing downtown.
In a six-and-a-half-minute span, the St. Thomas lawyer delivered a tell-it-like-it-is synopsis, warning the core area is at a critical threshold.
Her closing remarks left members momentarily flummoxed. Vaughan made it clear she was not open to questions, instead it is time to “find a real solution, in real-time, for real people.”
That can be done by striking a working group to tackle the increasingly dire situation.
Because the picture she painted of the downtown core’s immediate prospects is bleak.
He’s the longest-serving mayor/alderman/councillor currently in St. Thomas and earlier this month, Jeff Kohler declared his intention to seek another four-year term on city council. Kohler has served in that capacity since 2010, but his introduction to municipal politics is a story unto itself. He first threw his hat into the ring in 1997 and finished as third runner-up in that year’s municipal vote. Referencing Eric Bunnell’s People column from April of 2000, Ald. Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Kohler should fill the vacant seat. The top vote-getter in 1997, Terry Shackelton had already moved on to council and the next hopeful in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment to council.
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.
The item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.” Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations. In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly. In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow. The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range. Last year’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.” The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”
Let’s start with the following premise. “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.” That’s the argument put forth by Peter Ostojic who, along with his brother Joe, has completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer. In the past several months via emails sent to this corner, Peter has repeatedly questioned why the city is undertaking the construction of affordable housing units such as Phase 1 of the city’s social services and housing hub recently opened at 230 Talbot Street. A total of 28 apartment units are located on the two floors above the ground floor office space. Of those units, eight one-bedroom apartments have received funding through the federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program. As such, rents can be no higher than 80 per cent of the average market rent for the area.
The question was posed recently by Peter Ostojic of Walter Ostojic & Sons Ltd. “Just do not understand why the city is involved in building affordable housing units themselves.” The former mayor of St. Thomas was referencing the community and social services hub now under construction at 230 Talbot St. The subject was broached again this past Tuesday (Sept. 3) at the reference committee meeting in which city manager Wendell Graves updated council on Phase 2 of the project, which will front onto Queen Street. With Phase 1 nearing completion this fall – “something Graves described as a shiny, new nickel for us” – he presented a conceptual business case to council members. The structure would contain a minimum of 48 housing units on two floors with the possibility of more units should the structure be expanded to a third or fourth floor. The estimated cost of constructing each unit is $225,000 with 24 of them renting out at $500 or so per month and another 24 geared to income at approximately $300 per month.
A blue-and-white sign in the front window at 378 Talbot St., at first glance, appears deceptively hospitable. Its message, however, elicits a long second study. “Welcome To Ontario Open For Business Closed For Autism” Propped up against the glass in the former downtown branch of TD Canada Trust, the sign marks the office of CoField Inc. Co-owned by Lyndsay Collard and Alison Ditchfield, the pair head up a team of instructor therapists who provide Intensive Behavioural Intervention to children with autism and their families. Which has the two senior therapists butting heads with the provincial government over autism funding. Hence the sign.
It will be the first of its kind in Ontario and, as announced Wednesday (July 24), it is to be located in St. Thomas with an economic impact rippling across southwestern Ontario. At the Dennis Drive Industrial Park, the province’s minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski and environment minister Jeff Yurek announced $5 million in provincial funding to construct a cross laminated timber plant that will create 60 high-paying jobs. The $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. Element 5 facility “will showcase the kind of innovation we want to see more of in Ontario,” stressed Yakabuski at the funding announcement. Based out of Toronto, Element 5 has an existing plant in Ripon, Quebec which produces solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives.Continue reading →
It’s one of those unperceived neighbourhoods in St. Thomas . . . life beyond the hump of the Barwick Street bridge. The residents, who enjoy a tranquil setting west of the railway track, may soon be joined by a couple hundred new neighbours if the city approves a proposed subdivision in the Hill and Barwick streets enclave. The Ostojic Group of St. Thomas is proposing a 75-lot subdivision west of Hill Street with Nick and Joe Ostojic making their pitch to council this Monday (June 17). It’s not the first time the Ostojics have sought to develop the open field nestled between the St. Thomas bypass and Kettle Creek. The stumbling block in the past has been the restricted access across the wooden bridge that spans the CN line to London.