Steel Town: Dispatch #1

For crimes against grammar, punctuation and spelling in this blog, I have been banished to Hamilton for the immediate future. So I will be away from God’s country a few days a week. But as you may have noticed on Tuesday, I barely missed a beat. Apparently I can write complete crap wherever I am in the world. As an added bonus to my loyal readers, I will be doing an occasional dispatch from Steel Town. Funnily enough I already have a couple of pretty good stories to tell:
I needed some groceries Tuesday so I asked around and someone recommended a place called Lococo’s Market because it is cheap, which is my kind of grocery store. So after a bit of driving in circles (in Hamilton what seems to be north is south and vis-a-versa) eventually I found the place. I walked in and it was like suddenly being transferred into the third world. I was looking around in amazement at these massive chunks of beef, Christmas hamper size value packs of bone-in chicken thighs and boxes of burgers big enough to feed an army. In my wondrous state I nearly walked into a couple of guys who looked like they were “gang banger’s” for the Mexican drug cartel, complete with tear drop tattoos and those truck driver wallets with chains that hang down past their knees.‎ I apologized profusely and hurried off hoping I would not be in for a “bitch slapping” out in the parking lot. Some of you think we have some rough folk around Collingwood. Come to downtown Stoney Creek my friends, Mathew Way is like Pleasantville in comparison.
My next adventure was Wednesday morning, I pulled up at a red light and my phone rang. I did as we all do when this happens, answered it to tell the person that I am driving in unknown territory and would call back when I wasn’t. A squeegee guy complete with bucket and one those window washer things tapped on my window. I shook my head and waved him away. I then noticed that he was holding something against my window that looked very much like a police badge with “Hamilton Police” on it. That definitely got my attention. So after 10 minutes of my protestations to this Rummie/One of Hamilton’s Finest, pleading that I was only answering the phone to be polite to tell the person I couldn’t talk. I drove away with a newly minted $280 ticket for “Driving while using a hand-held communication device”. As per usual I ended up finding a way to look at the bright side of all this. I figured it out that I have been talking on my phone at will in my car for around six years, since this stupid law came into effect, so it’s cost me around 12 cents per day, well worth it in my mind. As an added bonus, that stupid cop has to stand on that street corner all day looking like a complete loser. There is a God in heaven after all.
I went for a run along Hamilton Beach Trail that same evening. One thing Hamilton has that Collingwood doesn’t is (take note of this Collingwood Town Council) ‎WATERFRONT RESTAURANTS. One place looked particularly nice, they were playing some kind of mashed up samba music. If you could ignore the smell of the water at the western end of Lake Ontario, which has a pungent odour that smells like a mixture of diesel and outhouse. You could almost imagine you were down in the Caribbean somewhere.
That’s about it for now people. I have lots more strange and wonderful tales to tell, but they will have to wait for another day.

Council Meeting 19/05/15 VFAN Style

1. I will not be attending most council meetings for the next little while, but let’s see how I get on using a couple of my proxy’s

2. Deb Doherty excused herself from discussions about Rexall Pharmacy signage. C’mon Deb I expect better from you, stop buying into this bullshit. This is two meetings in a row now that you have had to excuse yourself from discussions and votes that you have every right to be part of.

3. Head building inspector Bill Plewis does a presentation on the Rexall signage debacle and says: “sign is fully compliant and also emphasizes it is outside heritage district.” Earth to Bill. It looks like f*****g shit, my 13 year old daughter could tell you the same thing.

4. Who said Mayor Cooper doesn’t read my blog? She mentioned in community announcements, Rexall building a good addition to waterfront. Yeah Sandra and Nortel was a great investment opportunity. George W Bush was a prime candidate for a Noble Peace Prize. And Premier’s Windbag and McGuinty are both fiscally competent stewards of the Ontario economy.

5. Oh almost missed this one. Sandra must have been one of those cashiers at Loblaw’s that had to get out her calculator to figure out what the change from a Loony was on a 90 cent bill. DM Saunderson declared a conflict because he received 2 tickets for a theater Collingwood event. DM says they were $175 a piece for he and his wife. Sandra added $175 + $175, and somehow thought this was less than $200. She told him “it was a good thing he was being safe”.

6. Lots of talk and complaints about “drone” problems from Bygone Days on 6th St. I know how they feel, when Sandra Cooper starts droning on about how her pal Assaff’s ham-fisted developments improve the town.

7. Application to allow camping at Bygone Days. Catherine McMullen and Bob Reid are against, referencing illegal substance use, fires, people not following bylaws, rowdiness, vandalism and public urination. Sounds like a normal Saturday evening over at the Nobody residence.

8. Deb Doherty brought up Admiral site. It seems no answers are forthcoming any time soon. No one else on council seemed too interested in chiming in. I am not liking this pattern that seems to be forming.

9. Steve Assaff can squeeze a dollar and a delay out of anything, even that mosquito infested, over grown Admiral site. Apparently it is being used to store equipment for Hume St remediation. So don’t expect any resolution and clean up any time soon.

What legacy will Sandra Cooper leave us?

I realize it’s a little premature only six months into her 2nd term as Mayor, but I was thinking the other day about legacy and what will Sandra Cooper’s legacy be to the town of Collingwood after two terms in office. I am hearing from a bunch of sources that she will not run for a third term in 2018.

I think to have this conversation you have to have something to compare our current Mayor with. So let’s take a look at the previous two Mayors starting with:
Terry Geddes:
He was Mayor of Collingwood when I arrived in town in 2000. At that time Collingwood was still suffering from the hangover of the shipyard closing and was trying to define itself. It was the beginning of the end of factories and car part manufacturing in the area.
The much maligned Terry Geddes was very much instrumental in dragging Collingwood up by its boot straps in this transitional period to the place we live today. I would say that is his legacy, because there were very few major construction projects of a municipal nature in this time frame.
Chris Carrier:
From day one of Carrier’s tenure as Mayor of Collingwood the knives were out. I considered myself quite informed at the time but much of what I was “informed” about was actually quite wrong. Chris’s legacy to the town is actually quite long and accomplished. I will write it down in numbered form and you can judge for yourself:
1. Permanent Georgian Campus on Raglan and Poplar Ride road.

2. Library building

3. Downtown revitalization. Downtown was a complete dump when Chris took over as mayor he was very much instrumental in making our downtown the aesthetically pleasant experience it is today.

4. First St revitalization. ‎Again first st was awful back in the early oughties . Dumpy fast food restaurants and gas stations abandoned shuttered buildings cracked broken side walks.

5. Our local bus service was established including drafting an inter-municipal public transit agreement between Wasaga Beach and Collingwood.
6. Established a 150 acre business park through a strategic private developer and $1,500,000 from Federal government to extend municipal services to the park.

Sandra Cooper:
OK before we start lets get the obvious out of the way, she is only 6 months into her second term. I watch this stuff carefully and I do not see anything coming down the pipeline that in any way shape or form is going to be big enough to define Sandra Copper as far as a legacy in her second term. But let’s try anyway:

1. Enabled council to push forward with the new fire-hall. I never agreed with it but people whom I respect tell me it was necessary and justified.

2. After years of wrangling Hume Street is finally getting the refurbishment it requires. I suggest if this were being completed on either of previous two Mayors watch, this project would have been completed already, and another level of government would have been kicking in a good portion of the money to get it done.

3. A fractured recreation stable of facilities. The two tents are by no means a permanent answer to this towns long term recreational needs. It will come to pass, that what we have in place now are expensive to run, will look like crap in ten years time and in twenty years time, when the council of 2032 decides to fix that mess, Sandra will be wearing it like a 200 lb bridesmaid in a size 6 dress.

4. Waterfront. This is the pièce de résistance of Sandra’s legacy. The sad part about it is she knows no better, she’s probably walked down to the water front and thinks it is quite acceptable to have a bank and pharmacy’s parking lot butt right onto our waterfront. This cannot be fixed and our kids and grand-kids will be cursing the name Sandra Cooper for many years to come.

5. Admiral Collingwood Place. She gave her pal Steve Assaff every tool in the toolbox to get this project started and finished. Her and her voting block even refunded him his development fees. She promised when running for her first term that this project would be completed. Here we are 5 years later………Nothing.

6. Sold off half of Collus to the second highest bidder. This utility was a money maker and was sold to make the towns financial situation look less bleak come election time. She doubled down on this by lying about the towns financial situation during the election campaign.

7. She did get the patio debacle sorted out…… I’m sure Duncan’s is very appreciative.

C’mon people let’s be serious. Sandra Cooper is a complete lightweight. She has no vision, is as dumb as a post and if her brother were not who he is, would still be trying to find out what the scanning code for Cilantro is at Loblaw’s.

The Other Bookend

A couple of years too late, I finally got your attention on the recently completed scandalous plan to put a bank and pharmacy on the old Mountainview site. The gateway from the waterfront and harbour area to our downtown.
For any of you that have not been down to take a look; we now have a very well appointed dock for boats. When you exit that dock to walk towards downtown, the first thing you see are the garbage containers from the Admiral LCBO building, and the arse end of a pharmacy. Plus that same pharmacy’s parking lot stretches right to the road in front of the water. No chance of a buffer building to take away the vista of a Mississauga shopping strip.
This is done now, there is no fixing it, so we may as well all move on.

This brain dead development which has ruined a section of our downtown is but one bookend of two properties this developer owns. As many of you know he also owns the other bookend, colloquially called the Admiral Collingwood Place site on the corner of Hume and Hurontario Streets and at the south end of Collingwood’s downtown. So if the towns citizenry do as most did with the Mountainview site. Which is not attend the public meetings, collectively yawn and go about your business. The developer can now double down on Collingwood. Not only ruin the gateway into downtown by water, but ruin the southern road entrance into downtown also.
The site remediation agreement extension for that site runs out 31st May 2015. If you remember, the voting bloc of last council bent themselves into pretzels trying to save their pal from having to clean up this site. Apparently they were quite happy with 10 ft high Amazonian like weeds, a mosquito infested pond and faded rotting hoardings which would look right at home in the projects of Detroit.
I did a stage two reconnaissance mission of the site yesterday afternoon to see if anything had been accomplished. An excavator was aimlessly moving earth around. There were a couple of sea can storage bins in various places, but the site did not look like it was anywhere near being cleaned up to the standard that the site remediation agreement had stated. That agreement required that the site be leveled off and grass planted, rotten faded hoardings removed.

I had not heard any mumbling that this issue was being brought to council any time soon, so I did what I always do in cases like this – I called my trusty friend Steve Berman. He was apparently already on the case, he had made a couple of requests at town hall to find out the status of this file. As of 3 pm yesterday afternoon he had not received a response.

There will be a development on this site at some point, hopefully it will not be done by this developer. But if it is, many of you need to start paying a little more attention. You have seen his ham-fisted handy-work on the harbour front. Putting himself and his development company’s financial interests ahead of what is best for Collingwood. It would be a great shame if after spending millions of dollars remediating Hume Street, if we ended up with another monolithic square box commercial building like that Rexall eye sore. Last year was an election year. When the Mountainview site came up for a public hearing myself and Berman’s voices were shouting in the wilderness. If enough of you had been paying more attention, you could have stopped that development in its finished form, right in its tracks. Do not make the same mistake with the Admiral Collingwood Place site.

Mountainview Site – A series of unfortunate events………

It seems many of you are as disgusted with what we have ended up with on the old Mountainview site as I am. So I will expand on my blog from Monday and give you a look at what might have been and explain what led us to where we are today.

Firstly, I would like to show you what might have been. The following is an artist’s rendering of what we could have had on the corner of Hurontario and Huron St. The Globe Hotel which was built-in 1865 was designed by renowned Collingwood architect Fred T. Hodgson. It actually faced Hurontario St and was one of Collingwood’s first permanent structures.

Globe

Just for fun let’s compare this to what we ended up with.

Rexall

The Globe actually sat completely intact behind the tacky stucco of the Mountainview, much of the original architectural components were still in place and could have been easily saved. The following is an article from the EB explaining the original ACO proposal:

http://www.theenterprisebulletin.com/2012/07/23/aco-pushes-to-save-globe

Steve Redmond and his team from the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario Collingwood Branch made a detailed presentation to council when acting CAO Ed Houghton was in place. This proposal would have allowed the town to widen Highway 26 to 5 lanes and also preserved what you see above on Hurontario St. The idea was to have a cafe/restaurant on the main floor and a museum celebrating this towns ship building past on the upper floors. Imagine that, being able to sit in a restaurant and look out over Collingwood harbour. Unfortunately the backroom deals had already been put in place and this proposal was never even discussed or given any serious thought by the previous council.

Series of unfortunate events:

2004 – Local Developer Larry Dunn buys the Mountainview Hotel and continues to operate it as a bar and hotel until 2009.

May 2009 – The Mountainview serves its last customer as the local fire department and Simcoe County Health Unit condemn the building. Numerous fire safety issues and the presence of mold.

August 2009 – Larry Dunn looks into provincial and Simcoe County funding options to remediate the Mountainview into a subsidized housing. Nothing materializes from this

June 2012 – Town buys 6 meter wide strip of land on Huron St from Larry Dunn for $610,000 to enable widening Highway 26.

July 2012 – ACO issues a media release and does a presentation to town council, on how to save the Globe Hotel. They were apparently unaware that the backroom deals had already been done.

August 2012 – Local Developer Steve Assaff buys L shaped piece of land stretching from Mountainview site to waterfront from Fram-Stokker for $1.165 million. This is parking lot for Rexall and Bank of Montreal land. This is now the first impression visitors get of our Collingwood waterfront when they arrive by boat.

October 2012 – Steve Assaff closes on a deal to purchase the the balance of the land from Larry Dunn. This deal is struck up between all parties involved including the Town of Collingwood which ends up paying to demolish the Mountainview.

November 2012 – Town pays Kostick Demolition $340,000 to demolish the Mountainview including the 150 year old Globe Hotel portion.

May 2013 – VFAN publishes an alternate view of how our waterfront could be here: https://viewfromanobody.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/water-front-site-could-change-whole-feel-of-downtown/

December 2013 – At a public meeting at town hall, numerous residents plead with council to hold off on any development of the Mountainview site until after the towns strategic plan is in place. These calls fall on deaf ears. Also no official site plan was available at public meeting.

May 2014 – Council approves tender for road widening. Still no site plan available.

May 2014 – Council unanimously approves current site plan agreement for the site.

July 2014 – Steve Assaff breaks ground on Mountainview Development. All his pals on the voting block plus Mike Edwards are present at the ground breaking photo-op. Steve Assaff is quoted: “I’m looking forward to putting something on the corner that will make it a great gateway to the waterfront.”

May 2015 – Rexall Pharmacy and Bank of Montreal move into new locations. Many members of the public suddenly realize what has been done to Collingwood’s downtown and waterfront.

Over the years when our mayor and other politicians have been challenged about preserving some of our towns heritage and pushing development in a certain direction, the pat answer has been “It’s private land what can we do?” Take a look at the above timeline, I suggest our last council not only allowed this blight to happen to our downtown, but actively enabled it.

A little piece of Brampton comes to our waterfront………

If you want to see a perfect example of the nepotism and ineptitude of this towns previous council, look no further than the picture below ladies and gentleman:

waterfront

No that’s not downtown Brampton or Mississauga. That’s prime Collingwood waterfront real estate, my friends. A commodity that is getting rarer than rocking horse shit in this town. This is what happens when you have a developer who is pals with an incompetent Mayor and Deputy Mayor. Neither of whom have an ounce of vision, and cared more about fulfilling that same developer’s 10 year plan to have a national pharmacy chain and major financial institution as part of his stable of Collingwood commercial tenants. I have not met one person that is happy with the monstrosity of a square box building that now completely blocks the water front from our downtown. Or the Barrie-esque bank right next door to it. I bet the manager of this new bank has a better waterfront view than any other bank manager in Canada.
There was a vision in place though, it involved keeping the original Globe Hotel which was intact behind the facade of the Mountainview Hotel and doing an aesthetically pleasant visitor friendly development that involved a cafe and restaurant on the main floor and a museum upstairs, highlighting this towns ship building heritage. It would have actually enhanced downtown rather than the developer’s bank account. The following is a YouTube tour of the old Globe Hotel before the bulldozers came in:

As you can see it shows that this part of our towns heritage (It was build in the 1860’s) had some good bones to build from. It could have actually enhanced our waterfront and connected that waterfront to our downtown core. But the voting bloc on the previous council did not give that proposal, brought before it by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (Collingwood Branch), a second thought. The back room deals had already been signed sealed and delivered months prior, on the BBQ and dinner party circuit. By the people that really run this town.

The EB finally got around to complaining about this development here:

http://www.theenterprisebulletin.com/2015/05/06/sign-of-the-times

2 years late to the party I’m afraid. Too little too late and they are only editorializing on the ugly green signs that adorn the Rexall Pharmacy, not the fact that this and the development of a bank on prime waterfront land constitutes one of the worst urban development crimes in our towns history, since a bright spark thought it was a good idea to put a sewage treatment plant smack in the middle of another portion of our towns pristine waterfront and right in the middle of town.

The sad part of all this backroom dealing and shortsightedness, is this will not be fixed in either your kids or your grand-kids generations. The town is stuck with this urban blight long after the developer has spent his short term gains. The one thing he and the members of council that let this happen should remember though is they will own this embarrassment, long after they are dead and buried. Future generations will say “WTF were they thinking?” Probably quite similar to what we say now about the person or persons that placed that sewage treatment plant where it is today.

Fraser Institute report confirms what VFAN has been saying for 2 years

I was very interested to read the following report by the Fraser Institute:

http://www.fraserinstitute.org/research-news/display.aspx?id=22565

It confirms what I have been harping on about, since I first started writing this blog early in 2013. The following is an astounding statement within the report:

“The study found, for instance, that the number of reported fires in Ontario fell by 41.4% from 1997 to 2012. During that time, the number of firefighters increased by 36.3%”.

That’s crazy, how can we as a society let that happen? I have my own theory which will probably not make me too popular over at Third and High Street. But I will voice it anyway, because most of the stuff I write never wins me too many popularity contests. So here is my theory:
Between 1996 and today what was the most devastating event that happened to our western society? I’ll give you a clue. It happened on September 11th 2001. On that devastating day 343 brave firefighters lost their lives. The biggest loss of life by that profession ever to happen in one event. No one could ever take away what those brave men and woman did that day. But unfortunately we have collectively been paying guilt money for that loss to all firefighters across the land ever since. They have become untouchable in our society. There is no limit to the largesse that we are prepared to shower upon them. Nothing is too good for the modern day firefighter. Our local “Taj Mahal” fire hall is testament to that; gourmet kitchen, leather Lazi-Boys, state of the art gym, plasma TV’s. Also next time you drive through Wasaga Beach at the east end of town on River Road. Take a look at the new monolithic fire hall that they have built for the pampered Wasaga Beach firefighters. It’s actually more stunning than the Collingwood one, for Wasaga Beach!!! A town that’s half empty for seven months of the year.

I was perusing through the Sunshine list again the other day and was amazed at the amount of firefighters that were on it. Not just fire chiefs and high ranking members, but regular every day “firefighters”.
Take a look at the Sunshine List here:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/sunshine-list-2014-1.3016131
Go to any page and you will see a firefighter making over $100k per year. It’s like a runaway train that no one can or even seems to want to stop.

This town doesn’t need the kind of fire service that we have in place. It doesn’t need that shiny bauble of a fire station, which cost the tax payers over $5 million with nary a blink of anyones eye. We could get by quite easily with a skeleton fire crew, to deal with the 290 kitchen pan fires and fender benders that we have locally each year. Then have a backup crew of volunteer firefighters to deal with the five to ten more serious fires and car accidents that occur around Collingwood every year.

But I suppose we will never be able to have the above conversation until our municipal and provincial politicians have the back bone to take this issue on and stop dealing with it with an open cheque book.