Alma proposal handed to MHC

By Ian McCallum, St. Thomas Times-Journal Staff
Tuesday January 17, 2006

Without a word of debate, St. Thomas council Monday tossed another political football into the arms of the Municipal Heritage Committee. In a unanimous decision, the MHC was given three weeks to comment back to council regarding an application from Alma Heritage Estates to demolish the four-storey Alma College main building dating back to 1877.

The MHC is already wrestling with a proposal to sell or lease a portion of land west of the main entrance at Pinafore Park to D&B Developments for a 12-storey luxury condominium project and is to meet again Feb. 7 with owner Bob McCaig.

In a letter sent to the city’s environmental services department just prior to Christmas, London lawyer Brian Worrad noted Alma Heritage Estates is seeking to tear down the former school for girls to prepare for a new, unspecified development. “My client’s attempt to make this property function for the benefit of the citizens of St. Thomas requires that the main building be taken down and the site prepared for development from the ground up,” wrote Worrad.

Brian Squires has owned the Moore Street property since 1998 and nearly three years ago approached council with a proposal to partner with the city to locate a new Valleyview Home for the Aged on the site. Council chose instead to proceed with a new facility, set to open next month, on city-owned land on the west side of Burwell Road.

In September, 2004, Squires unveiled his vision of an "exclusive independent retirement community" on the Alma grounds. The project was abandoned last spring and the property was put up for sale.

In his letter Worrad noted should the city be interested in maintaining and developing the main facade, Alma Heritage Estates is prepared to transfer ownership to the municipality "on mutually agreeable terms." In his report to council Monday, city clerk Wendell Graves recommended the matter be referred to the city's Municipal Heritage Committee for comment by Feb. 8.

As a designated property under the Ontario Heritage Act, within 90 days of receipt of an application for a demolition permit council must, after consultation with the MHC, either consent to the issuance of a permit, which could include conditions, or refuse the application.