While there are no quick fixes, members of a grassroots committee say signs of a brighter future are emerging in Mitton Village.
The committee has been working hard and meeting monthly for more than a year, developing a strategy to help revive the once thriving central city neighbourhood and business district.
“The task of this committee is really quite big,” says member Don Hewson.
“It’s a social problem but it’s also an infrastructure problem. We must solve it with some degree of economic development,” he said.
“Every time someone comes to build anything in Sarnia, we need to take them through Mitton Village and ask them if they see any opportunity.”
A meeting last week drew about 40 residents and business owners who gathered at the Lochiel Kiwanis Centre to learn how a group of Fanshawe College students can help.
The students listened as resident Colin Graf described living near a known drug house.
“The problems going on are way beyond empty storefronts,” Graf said. Absentee landlords, the noise and traffic of addicts, crumbling pavement and poor lighting are frustrating, he said.
“I am here because I’m mad,” said resident Christine Provencher. “I want the illicit activity, the noise, the drug dealing stopped. We just have to find a way because I’m not going anywhere.”
Provencher has repeatedly complained to police, City Hall, the mayor, and even Ontario’s Attorney General, hoping drug laws can be strengthened.
One day after the June 24 meeting, Sarnia Police reported issuing a search warrant on Mitton Street and seizing a small quantity of Fentanyl and drug paraphernalia. Three people were arrested.
“I am very pleased there is more of a police presence and arrests have been made,” Provencher said later. “It’s a start.”
Brian White, city council’s rep on the Mitton Street committee, assured those assembled the city hears them.
Drug problems are an issue across all of Sarnia, he said.
“It’s not just in Mitton Village. But staff is working hard to make sure Mitton Village is a priority,” Coun. White said.
The city has invested in new planters to spruce up the commercial area. A new bus route runs through the area and the city has extended a façade improvement program that downtown businesses used for years.
What’s more, planning and building fees have been cut in half for developer who renovate or build in the area bounded roughly by George, Talfourd, Crawford and Mitton streets.
Students from Fanshawe’s architectural technology and urban design program confirmed they will provide free design solutions.
During the brainstorming session, ideas ranged from a police substation on Mitton Street, wider sidewalks and more trees and bicycle lanes, to a youth and social centre, more social events and additional benches.
The student concept proposals will be presented next year.
“The students’ re-envisioning the space really helps,” said White. “Rather than marketing empty buildings we can have a vision to take to a private developer.”
Kenn Poore, a member of the GFive group developing the former Sarnia General hospital site, also brought good news to the committee.
His group is moving ahead with the sale of 11 residential lots on Essex Street this summer, Poore said.
A building at the corner of George and Mitton has been sold to a new business, and improvements have been made to ready the former health unit on George Street for sale.
Meanwhile, a group of Mitton Village neighbours is planning a block party with live music, food, vendors and art on Aug. 24.
And numerous new businesses have opened in Mitton Village in the recent months. They including Dog Eat Dog Home Furnishings and Décor, Summer BloomS, Captain John’s Fish and Chips, Sole Decisions, and Limitless Photography.