Tiny homes hold a big vision for a more vibrant St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykUnveiled 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.

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Will a third Lake Margaret master plan have us swimming in reports?


city_scope_logo-cmykThere 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.

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Childcare spaces disappear as the result of a ‘soft’ business case


city_scope_logo-cmykA 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.

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St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge: ‘an increasingly expensive police response is the wrong direction’


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It’s time to get serious and address the escalating challenges looming over the city’s downtown core, advises St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge.
After a couple of phone calls this week and an exchange of emails, Herridge took the time to present a case for taking a leadership role in confronting those challenges.
“We are seeing a trend where drug and property crime has been increasing,” notes Herridge. “If we do not get a handle on the issues we are currently facing, the big city issues that quickly arrived here three to four years ago are going to turn into the serious issues occurring in larger centres across our country.
“As I have mentioned many times in the past, St. Thomas is not unique to the social, health and crime problems being experienced, but we can be leaders in addressing these issues if we focus on where the challenges are and, right now, the challenges are predominantly in and around our downtown.”
Herridge starts with a resource primer that should be pinned within easy reach for downtown merchants and their staff.

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There is no ‘bait and switch’ with the Alma College Square development


city_scope_logo-cmykEvident 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.

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From slap shots to COVID-19 shots, Memorial Arena takes on a new role


city_scope_logo-cmykWith all the knocks against the province’s coronavirus attack plan and vaccination roll-out, you have to wonder how much consultation there has been with the local health units and their medical officers of health?
In fact, how closely is the government listening to medical authorities at institutions like Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and other experts in the field on a safe back-to-school policy?
You can point to the federal government for their handling of the vaccine itself, but is the shortage an easy target when your own program is likewise sputtering and subject to rapid and unexpected about turns?
At the grassroots level our local health unit, Southwestern Public Health, is being proactive and has approached the city to obtain use of Memorial Arena as a vaccination hub.
The matter is a late addition to Monday’s (March 1) council agenda.
As noted in city manager Wendell Graves’ report to members, “Attributes of the site include easy access, good parking and the ability to map out an operational floor plan that would allow for the greatest number of people to be vaccinated as expeditiously as possible.”

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Working through COVID-19: ‘We’ve all got to be on the same page’ – St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the province now in a shutdown scenario for at least 28 days and the onus on residents to stay at home except for essential tasks, does that mean city police are lurking, waiting to collar unsuspecting citizens caught in the act?
That’s far from the reality, advised St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge in a conversation yesterday (Friday), one day after the order came into effect.
“We’re trying to put out as much information as we can to keep the public informed,” assured Herridge. “As the information comes in, we feel, if it’s applicable, to keep the public informed. Because if they’re informed, they know what to do.
“And, if they know what to do that makes our job of vital enforcement so much easier. Even today we put out a Q&A.”
You can find it on the St. Thomas Police Facebook page.
“We thought it appropriate to continue to inform our community as best as possible.
“Let’s just stay at home. We’re going to carry on business as usual as best we can, given the restrictions that we have to live under.
“We had a similar situation in the past. We had a state of emergency back in the spring and all we’re asking people to do is abide by the restrictions in place.”
“We’re not going to be pulling people over randomly to do a COVID test. We’re not going to be stopping people randomly to check if you’re staying home.
“If there’s something that’s obvious, something that’s blatant and in violation of the current order then yes, we will deal with that.
“And we’ll take the same approach as we would take along with bylaw enforcement as well. A lot of the calls we’ve been triaging and sending along to bylaw enforcement, our partners at city hall.
“But, our community has been very, very good. We’ve been very fortunate. I know our case count has gone up since September, but I applaud the residents of St. Thomas for the excellent work they have been doing with compliance.”
And, these tighter restrictions into February are not something city hall or police have instituted, they were mandated by the Doug Ford government.

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“We have to follow, just like any other regulation, legislation or law that is implemented. And the police have to enforce it and we will use our discretion as best we can, given the circumstances.
“But the bottom line is, we need to get through this pandemic and we need to try and save lives and keep people healthy as best as we can. And, we all need to work together as one big team here.
“I know not everyone is on the same page with the pandemic and COVID, but it’s happening and people are dying and people are getting sick and this is not slowing down any.
“This is starting to wear thin on people. We’re approaching a year now having to deal with this and we’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime.
“We’re definitely being tested here. Something that may not have triggered a person six months or a year ago, those little things are now starting to trigger people.”
The burn factor is something Herridge has to deal with internally at headquarters on CASO Crossing.

“So I respect and understand how the public feels. So, I just ask let’s all try and work together and abide by these restrictions and we’re going to come out of this.”

“I’m seeing it wearing on our officers. It’s a long go for them as well. When you throw that on top of everything else they have to deal with, it’s challenging.”
It’s not just the front-line officers, reminds Herridge.
“It filters through the entire organization. There’s clerical work, there’s prisoner transport work, there’s court work and it all involves the entire organization.
“We try to do a number of things around here to keep the morale up and ensure we’re looking after all of our staff. Communication is key.
“So I respect and understand how the public feels. I just ask, let’s all try and work together and abide by these restrictions and we’re going to come out of this.
“And, we’re going to come out of this better. But, it’s going to take some time. During that time we’re working through this, we’ve all got to be on the same page.”
In addition to the police Q&A on their Facebook page, a complete breakdown of what is deemed essential and what is not can be found on the myFM website at https://www.stthomastoday.ca/2021/01/15/shedding-light-on-the-provinces-stay-at-home-order/.

STAY AT HOME FROM A CITY HALL POINT OF VIEW

The above segment lays out the police playbook on enforcing the stay-at-home orders, but what is the approach at city hall through bylaw enforcement?
We spoke with city manager Wendell Graves on Thursday, the day this came into effect, for an update.
“Since Day 1 of our pandemic experience since last March, our police and bylaw enforcement have been working very closely together so that the roll-out of any enforcement is on the same level. And that’s been working extremely well.

“We have COVID cases in our community but we haven’t had any major flare-ups and that’s a testament to the regard that everyone is having for it.”

“Our approach is to try and do the education piece first and if we do get a complaint, then certainly someone is going to follow up and see what’s happening.
“If we see something blatantly going on, then they will address that. For the most part, we act on bylaw complaints.”
The approach will not be unlike the week-long education campaign undertaken late last year with downtown businesses. That blitz involved a cooperative effort with city police and Southwestern Public Health.
“We found just a great response from the community,” advised Graves. “It reinforces the face our bylaw folks certainly aren’t working independently of law enforcement in our relationship with police.
“We really have had wonderful response from the community, in terms of complying. You always get the odd pebble in our shoe we have to address.
“We have COVID cases in our community but we haven’t had any major flare-ups and that’s a testament to the regard that everyone is having for it.”
Circling back to that education blitz with local businesses, we received a wrap-up analysis following the campaign from St. Thomas Police corporate communications coordinator Tanya Calvert, who praised the efforts of small business owners and their regard for the safety of staff and customers.
But we haven’t heard anything back from the health unit which was dealing with the big box stores and businesses outside the city.
Will city bylaw enforcement deal with possible infractions at those bigger stores allowed to stay open during the orders, at the expense of smaller, local outlets?
“They could be,” advised Graves.
We’ll be avoiding those larger outlets to help support the downtown and smaller businesses around the city but feedback on your experience at the big-box stores will be welcome.

SKATING (SAFELY) THROUGH THE PANDEMIC

Driving along Elm Street past Pinafore Park on a cold, clear winter day, you couldn’t help miss people enjoying that great Canadian past-time, skating outdoors on a frozen pond.
Well seems the hot spot (not literally) this winter is Lake Margaret. Last weekend it was populated with skaters of various ages enjoying all manner of ice activities.
Even though several days earlier a dog and its owner nearly met their fate on that very same spot.
Lake Margaret skating Jan. 10-21 (2)Now, if you’re familiar with the lake, then you’ve seen the posted signs prohibiting swimming, fishing and boating.
The lake is now owned by the city, so we touched bases with Ross Tucker this week to get the official word on gliding across the ice.
“When we re-did our parks and rec bylaw we were silent on the idea of skating on all of our water in the city,” advised Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management,
“There’s no bylaw that says you can or cannot skate on the ice. We do have going up on the recommendation of our insurance company is a sign saying, ‘Danger Thin Ice.’

“How do you say you can’t skate on Lake Margaret, but come to Pinafore? There’s always an inherent risk with everything.”

“The age-old days of saying ‘use at own risk’ is not an acceptable term anymore. We’ve really been working with our insurance company on it.
“Even though we don’t test it, we understand people do test the ice. Somebody’s been checking the ice.
“It’s a fairly shallow body, and no one was on Pinafore on the weekend and it’s quite a bit deeper and hadn’t frozen through and there was more water movement.
“There were a lot of people on Lake Margaret and, in all honesty, it looked like they were having a great time.”
There’s nothing that says Canada like braving the chill and skating around a frozen body of water. Why it’s a Tim Hortons’ moment.
“How do you say you can’t skate on Lake Margaret, but come to Pinafore? There’s always an inherent risk with everything.”
However, don’t savour the arrival of spring and outdoor fun on the water.
“Those activities are in the bylaw,” advised Tucker. “Council has the ability in the bylaw to designate usage.”
You can, added Tucker, use canoes or kayaks on other city water bodies.
“And, the reason people are on Lake Margaret right now,” noted Tucker, “is there’s no snow. It’s not a perfect ice surface but for kids playing and, certainly during this global pandemic, it’s so tough on people. You have to have something to do.”
So, check the ice and skate on.

Related post:

https://ianscityscope.com/2018/06/02/for-steve-wookey-is-this-the-best-way-to-go-fishing-for-votes/

GAME TIME 5 P.M.

After toying with various start times over the past few years, city council has settled on 5 p.m. for its regularly scheduled meetings. A notice of motion will be before council Monday to make the change official.
And reference committee meetings will no longer be stand-alone, explains city clerk Wendell Graves.
“What we’re going to do is envelop our reference committee discussions into council meetings. We will have those broad discussions at the same time versus breaking up into two separate meetings.”
Those reference committee meetings had been held before council gatherings and then recently were moved to afterward.
There is value to those committee meetings and, in the past year, much has come forward from those detailed discussions.
“We want that to still happen,” advises Graves. “It will be the same kind of format when we get to that point in the agenda.”
As has been the case up to now, each reference committee meeting had a defined agenda, quite often involving input from staff and outside sources.
“When we get to that point in the agenda we will identify that this will be a discussion topic.”
The 5 p.m. start time is not necessarily a convenient start time for the public since many people will either be at work or on their way home, meaning you will have to watch the archived live stream on the city hall webpage.
“It’s because we’re trying to envelop all of these sessions together without having disjointed breaks in them,” reiterates Graves.
The onus is now on the city’s IT people to ensure a good live stream of those meetings is always available and archived in a prompt fashion.
Not always the case in recent months.

THE READER’S WRITE

Last week’s item on the city’s pollution control plant raised a stink with a few readers. Carrie Hedderson Smith stresses in her Facebook comment, “the saga continues.”

“I think Justin Lawrence should live in the courthouse area, try and sit outside or go for a walk and see if he can accomplish and enjoy the action without feeling like he has to throw up.
“It may be improved but it is far from resolved. Colder weather may have dampened down the smell a bit, trust us, we’ve called the ministry and so have the neighbours, the saga continues.”

Chris Smith-Heidt has empathy for Carrie.

“Odours are strong in the Memorial Arena area as well.”

The area around the St. Thomas Elevated Park is also not immune, notes Deb Hardy.

“We live nearer to the elevated park on Sunset and rarely smell it in the cooler months, but come summer, pew!”

And, Dave Mathers has a more personal relationship with the plant.

“I cut the grass, was a spare operator and did general clean-up at the sewage plant for two summers over sixty years ago. There were complaints even then about the smells. The good news? You get used to it!! LOL”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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Even with the vaccines, the coronavirus “is not something that we can leave and forget about in the immediate future” – Dr. Joyce Lock


city_scope_logo-cmykWhile the new COVID-19 case numbers have retreated somewhat at the back end of this week, they remain disturbingly high. In the Southwestern Public Health region as of Friday, two key indicators are red-flagged.
The percent positivity rate has risen sharply to six per cent, with a number above five meaning there is widespread community transmission at this moment.
As recently as mid-October the number was well below one per cent.
And, the ongoing cumulative confirmed case rate per 100,000 population sits at 166.4 for the health unit’s coverage area. For St. Thomas. it is even higher at 169.6, although it has dropped significantly this week.
Any number above 40 per 100,000 population is enough to keep the region in the COVID-19 Red-Control or Grey-Lockdown zone. Continue reading

Moving St. Thomas forward despite the coronavirus: ‘There’s no shutting the key off on this bus’ – Mayor Joe Preston


city_scope_logo-cmykAs city residents transitioned from Christmas celebrations to life under a minimum 28-day province-wide shutdown, we chatted with Mayor Joe Preston on how this will impact the administration’s game plan for 2021.
Considering council and administration accomplished much in a year we would otherwise like to forget.
That includes a new transit system that will begin to take shape this month, the impressive number of building permits issued in 2020, construction projects underway like the residential development on the Alma College site, new industries like Element5 springing up, affordable housing projects and a new civic park project to be developed on the site of the former police headquarters.
Always upbeat, Preston began by pointing out city hall will remain open during this time while other municipalities have chosen to keep their administrative offices closed.

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