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Here’s what you need to know about Monday’s Sarnia city council meeting

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Cathy Dobson 

WHEN IS IT OKAY TO GIVE A DEVELOPER A BREAK?

City council is being asked to waive development charges on two key properties that could be critical to the future of Mitton Village.

Lawyer Francis De Sena and his client Mohit Gupta of Toronto appeared before city council Monday requesting exemptions of $277,000 in development charges for the former SCITS school on Wellington Street and another $52,542 for the vacant Walker Brothers’ building at the corner of Mitton and Wellington streets.

Lawyer Francis De Sena, left, and developer Mohit Gupta, owner of the former SCITS building, speak to council.

Gupta is redeveloping part of the SCITS building into 40 dorm units for students, said De Sena. Ultimately, the plan is to develop the historic building into a private school.
The old Walker Brothers’ building is slated to be converted into 14 lower-rent, student housing units.

Together the two projects could bring a significant number of people to live in the area and lead to more investment, he said.

There are no development charges in Sarnia’s downtown, De Sena noted, pointing to the numerous highrises going up there. He’d like the same policy for Mitton Village.

Coun. Anne Marie Gillis supported the request. “If we’re serious about getting anything going in Mitton Village, infilling is the way to go,” she said.

Sarnia CAO Chris Carter noted that if council approves development charge exemptions, the money must be raised elsewhere in the city’s budget.

It needs to be replaced or it could potentially increase the tax levy, Carter said.
Development charges are meant to pay for new services required for developments.
The matter was referred to budget deliberations Jan. 10.


NEW VET GETS GREEN LIGHT

Two veterinarians were relieved Monday when council unanimously agreed to a zoning amendment for a new animal hospital at 1125 Lakeshore Rd., near Murphy.

Initially, several councillors said that neighbours required more time to make comment and said the zoning decision should be delayed.

But some, like Coun. Terry Burrell, said the building owner followed all the rules of the zoning process and a delay would hurt the project.

Council heard that at least two vets from Forest intend to relocate to the building on Lakeshore Road as soon as it can be renovated. The clinic will have no outdoor kennels.


LONGTIME SARNIA DEVELOPER FRUSTRATED WITH DELAY

Developer Lou Longo admonished city council Monday, saying Sarnia’s reputation suffers because developers so frequently run into red tape and delays.

Lou Longo

“It’s just so frustrating as a developer,” Longo said. “All these delays and delays and delays. People don’t understand that delays cost money. That’s why this city has a negative (reputation) in the rest of Ontario.

“You’ve got to stop delaying. You’ve got to make decisions. We’ve got to move the city forward,” Longo said.

Longo’s comments were prompted by council’s initial hesitation to grant a zoning amendment for a new veterinarian on Lakeshore Road.

“These are good business people,” he said, adding that all the rules had been followed and delays occurred already because of the election.

On the advice of staff that any decision would be followed by an appeal period, council agreed to approve the zoning amendment.

“(Council) should know there is always an appeal period,” Longo responded.


POLICE STATS TO PONDER

In answer to a question from Coun. Chrissy McRoberts, Police Chief Derek Davis said the number of calls to police have jumped 11% since 2018. Four years ago, Sarnia Police Service received 28,349 calls.  This year, 31,568 calls have come in to date.

Violent crime is also on the way up, Chief Davis said.  In 2013, violent crime severity was pegged at 60.17. By 2021, it jumped to 113.98.

During a discussion about whether Sarnia needs more officers, Coun. Anne Marie Gillis pointed out that for years, the local police complement was 111 in uniform.  During that time, the city had anywhere from zero to two homocides a year, said Gillis.

This year, when the proposed police budget includes seven more officers, the city has had 20 – 22 homicides over the past 24 months.

“So you can see there’s something drastic here that requires immediate action,” Gillis said.  Council debates the budget Jan. 10.


 

NOBODY  ACCEPTING MONEY TO GO TO NETHERLANDS

City council and city staff have turned down an offer from a Sarnia non-profit to pay for a conference in Holland.

nuSarnia Foundation, which is dedicated to making the city more walkable and liveable, offered to contribute $2,500 per person for politicians and a delegation of city staff to go to the City Builder’s Symposium in June.

But integrity commissioner Paul Watson warned that accepting the cash from nuSarnia would create a conflict of interest.  Council agreed and declined the donation.

However, Coun. George Vandenberg said he intends to go to the five-day conference, apparently on his own dime.


 

BRIGHT AND THELMA GETTING FOUR-WAY STOP SIGNS

The intersection of Bright and Thelma streets in Bright’s Grove is an accident waiting to happen, says resident Mike Mahar.

In fact, five accidents have already occurred in the last 10 years and he is concerned there will be more because of a large new subdivision going in nearby.

Mahar is retired and said he has a lot of things he’d rather do than talk to council, but he’s worried about safety at the busy intersection.

He presented council with a petition signed by about 200 neighbours asking for installation of a four-way stop.

The request has been referred to the engineering department for a report on how to make the intersection safer.

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