John Miceli

Settlement reached between town and estate of Graham Hobbs

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The lawsuit that was filed by a retired grandfather that continued after his death has now concluded.

A settlement has been reached between the family of Graham Hobbs and the Town of Amherstburg. Hobbs had been banned from town hall and other municipal property following an alleged incident at the Amherstburg Municipal Building Nov. 20, 2015. He subsequently filed the $100,000 lawsuit against the municipality.

Hobbs died Jan. 2, 2017 but the lawsuit had continued until recently when the town received $25,000, which resolved the matter.

“Being a legal matter, I do have to be careful of what I say and how I say it,” acknowledged Mayor Aldo DiCarlo after Monday night’s council meeting. “Obviously we felt the town’s position was appropriate.”

According to the mayor, efforts were made to try and resolve the matter.

“Unfortunately, we could not do that outside the legal forum,” he said.

DiCarlo said the $25,000 will be put towards costs to defend its position.

While the matter is over, DiCarlo said the town takes no pleasure in the outcome.

“We don’t feel great about it but we did have a fiduciary duty to get taxpayers’ money back and we did that,” he said. “It was an unfortunate incident and it’s just not the kind of thing that you want to deal with when you’ve got all these other issues you have to deal with.”

In a report from treasurer Justin Rousseau that came before council on 2017 year-end financial ratios and indicators, it contained a portion which read: “Subsequent to 2017 year-end the claim Hobbs CV-16-23500 was settled with cost being awarded back to the Town of Amherstburg. In early 2018, $25,000 was received by the Town to cover the Town’s legal expenses for this matter. This is no longer a pending claim at the time of this report.”

 

Questions and tempers raised as fundraising expenditure discussed

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A question over an accounts payable to the Crown Park Corporation that was labelled for Belle Vue fundraising sparked a contentious debate Monday night.

Town council allowed Michael Prue, treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy, to speak and Prue questioned a few Belle Vue related expenses, with most of them being connected to the ongoing roof construction. When he got to the line about the Crown Park Corporation, he expressed curiosity and told council “we don’t pay for any fundraising.”

CAO John Miceli, after conferring with treasurer Justin Rousseau, said it was not actually for the Belle Vue fundraising but rather a planning study for the Amherstburg Community Foundation for fundraising efforts for all town initiatives.

Miceli said the study looks at raising money for town endeavors without having to rely on going to the taxpayers. A $6,000 payment was listed under the accounts payable section but the CAO indicated it was a $12,000 report.

“There are two payments of $6,000 to tell us how to fundraise?” asked Councillor Jason Lavigne, who also wanted to know who is on the foundation, when they meet and whether council can see minutes of their meetings.

Rousseau indicated the Amherstburg Community Foundation is a “holding account” and that money is reimbursed by the foundation for any cheques the town cuts. He said taxpayer money wasn’t used on the study.

“Who supported the $12,000 is the question,” Lavigne pressed. “Who paid the $12,000 for the study? I think we all want to know.”

Miceli said there are efforts being made to “accelerate” fundraising and that now “we have a study that will help us.” He said that funds raised by the foundation may be used for Belle Vue but research has shown that not all donors want to donate to Belle Vue and those donors may want to give funds to other projects.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said both himself and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale sit on the foundation.

Councillor Diane Pouget wondered if Crown Park Corporation had been hired by the foundation and Miceli said the foundation hadn’t hired anyone. The study was done in order to raise more money for the foundation, with the CAO adding the Belle Vue Conservancy has done a “great job raising money” but other avenues wanted to be explored by the foundation.

Prue emphasized he spoke up because he didn’t understand the fundraising expenditure.

“We’re fundraising for nothing,” he said.

Councillor Rick Fryer said he recalled getting updates when the Libro Centre was being built on the fundraising process.

Pouget said she called earlier Monday and was told by Rousseau it was for Belle Vue, and was upset with the responses she was getting at the meeting.

“I expect the treasurer to tell us the truth,” she said. “I am asking on behalf of the constituents.”
Rousseau said he had yet to review the document, and gave Pouget the most accurate information he had when she called.

“I gave you the best information I had this morning,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “If that has fallen short, I apologize.”

Administration is expected to give council more details on the matter at an upcoming meeting.

More ideas come in on what to do with the Belle Vue property

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

More ideas have been floated as the town held a second public meeting on what to do with the Belle Vue property.

About 25 people attended last Tuesday night’s meeting at the Libro Centre with more people from the general public attending this meeting than the first one held seven days earlier.

Similar to the May 29 meeting, attendees were told that as of May 31, the Belle Vue Conservancy had raised $210,000 in cash, had nearly $18,000 in in-kind contributions and another $65,000 in future cash pledges.

“We are starting phase one, which is the repairing of the roof,” said CAO John Miceli. “We’re trying to make it water-tight.”

Miceli praised the conservancy, stating they have done a good job raising money. Renderings depicts such things as gardens, brick pathways, a greenhouse, conference meeting centre, lighting, a bandshell and other amenities but the door has been left open for other ideas. Miceli said nothing has been adopted by council.

“It is an incredible property to be placed here in Amherstburg,” said Miceli. “We took a blank canvas and created something our community could enjoy as well as our region.”

Historian Robert Honor, who is also a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy, gave a history of the 200-year-old home from the time it was built by Robert Reynolds in 1816-19 through its various private owners, to its time as a veterans’ home and then as St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church. The church sold the property in 2000. The town bought it in 2016.

“Belle Vue seems to tell a story of people starting new adventures,” said Honor. “Belle Vue might be considered a symbol of new beginnings and new prosperity.”
Honor added that “as we speak, we are also part of the process of new beginnings as we discuss the future of Belle Vue.”

One of the renderings shown at the two recent public meetings shows the elevations of the historic building once Belle Vue is restored.

John McDonald said the fundraising process could be assisted if people could use the grounds. He suggested teaming with the Amherstburg Fort Malden Horticultural Society to spruce up the nine-acre site, with the first priority being to put in trees.

Use of the property could “build public momentum,” McDonald said, adding that such things as church picnics could be held on the grounds under a permit system.

The chief administrative officer replied that there are currently liability issues with Belle Vue as the site needs to be graded to make it safer. He did note that it is in the parks master plan. There is also no irrigation on the grounds to help water any plant materials at the current time.

The greenhouse that is proposed would allow the town to grown and maintain its own plant materials, he envisioned.

Councillor Leo Meloche spoke on the conference centre idea with Miceli indicating that the historic building could house smaller conferences while larger conferences could be held in a new building that could be built behind the home.

Meloche added the parks and gardens will take Belle Vue “to another level” but was hoping for minimal operating costs to run it, also hoping that would be self-sustaining.

Bob Rozankovic questioned whether the site could be self-sustaining with Miceli responding that the town would seek partnerships in running the site. He was confident it would be cost-neutral, envisioning that Belle Vue would be a destination that people from the region would want to book and attend.

A proposed look at what the Belle Vue property would look like.

Miceli added that a business model would have to be built but emphasized his belief Belle Vue could become a popular place in Amherstburg for residents and visitors alike.

“It’s a unique venue,” said Miceli. “There’s nothing like it.”

The CAO added it is “a totally different look and feel” than Willistead Manor in Windsor and believed there would be more amenities should Belle Vue be restored.

Treasurer Justin Rousseau agreed that there could be “a lot of uptake for bookings” at a restored Belle Vue and “that type of revenue stream” and that type of revenue could prove fruitful for the town.

Using the home as a bed and breakfast was floated but Miceli said they would have to work with a private operator to run it, should the town want to go in that direction. He said there could be an announcement soon as it relates to a hotel coming to Amherstburg.

Marc Renaud said relationships have to be built with the community to help get the site restored. He said the ongoing roof replacement shows there is activity at the site.

“It’s about donor. Money that will make the place run,” he said.

As for a timeline, Miceli said that is tough to give since the restoration depends on fundraising dollars. Should donors step up and grants come in, the actual construction process could take 18 months to three years on the home itself while the grounds could take approximately eight months to complete, according to the CAO.

Miceli said news about a federal grant could be coming soon.

“We are applying to every opportunity that comes along,” he said.

Paul Hertel, another member of the conservancy, recalled being on town council when King’s Navy Yard Park was created. He believed it is now a reflection of the community’s desire for growth, and that Belle Vue could turn into the same thing.

“I feel Amherstburg has great potential and energy to grow,” he said. “It takes a whole community to raise its collective conscience of who we are and the space we are blessed to occupy. I have great faith the process will be successful. It’s not a one-term project. It’s a life journey.”

An image of what a restored Belle Vue would look like, according to renderings by Architectura.

Miceli said the Belle Vue project and the project proposed for the Duffy’s property are among the most exciting he has dealt with in his 28-year municipal career.

“They are game-changers for the town,” he said.

The Belle Vue Conservancy’s next fundraiser is “All That Jazz for Belle Vue,” which is an event that includes a dinner and a show. It’s planned for June 25 at the Artisan Grill. Tickets are $80 per person and are available at the Artisan Grill, Amherstburg Freedom Museum or by calling Shirley Curson-Prue at 519-736-6947. The entertainment includes Renee King-Jackson and her Fabulous Foursome. It runs from 6-10 p.m.

For more information on future events or on the Belle Vue Conservancy, visit www.bellevueconservancy.com. To donate, people can visit www.amherstburg.ca/donate.

Belle Vue is located at 525 Dalhousie St. in Amherstburg.

Ideas floated for what to do with the Belle Vue property

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg held the first of two public consultation meetings regarding the Belle Vue property last week with several ideas floated around on what to do with it.

About 20 people attended last Tuesday night’s meeting at the Libro Centre, many of whom are members of the Belle Vue Conservancy. The conservancy is fundraising for the restoration of the property that the town purchased in 2016.

Robert Honor, a local historian and member of the Belle Vue Conservancy, outlined the history of the 200-year-old Dalhousie St. mansion from when it was built by the Reynolds family to its various private owners and its stints as a veterans’ home and as St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church.

Town treasurer Justin Rousseau said the conservancy has been busy with fundraisers since it was formed.

“There’s always a campaign going on,” he said.

An image of what a restored Belle Vue would look like, according to renderings by Architectura.

The money the Belle Vue Conservancy raises is then given to the Town of Amherstburg with Rousseau stating that cash donations as of last Tuesday’s meeting were at $210,000 with another $65,000 of committed contributions. There are also $18,000 in in-kind contributions for an overall total of $292,000.

“The fundraising efforts have been very good,” said Rousseau.

The fundraising has helped offset costs of the new roof that is currently being installed, he noted, adding the town is also working to find grant opportunities.

The meeting turned into a question-and-answer period with CAO John Miceli, with Miceli calling the roof “a great first step” in the restoration process.

“We’ve got really good momentum,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that.”

The CAO added “the conservancy has done a tremendous job raising money.”

Miceli called Belle Vue an important piece of the town’s tourism industry going forward.

“It is going to be one of the catalysts of the tourism industry. I strongly believe that,” he said.

A proposed look at what the Belle Vue property would look like.

A restored Belle Vue will not just benefit Amherstburg, Miceli continued, but will be a boost to the region as a whole.

“I view Belle Vue as a regional property,” he said. “It’s not just an Amherstburg property, it’s a regional property. It’s a property that belongs to the entire region.”

What the property is going to be used for is still open for debate, though Miceli said the main comments he has heard are to use the building as a conference centre.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be driven by the community,” stated Miceli.

The chief administrative officer envisioned Belle Vue as a “tremendous opportunity” and one that will surpass another property he was responsible for when he was the director of parks and recreation for the City of Windsor.

“In my opinion, it will blow Willistead (Manor) out of the water,” he boasted.

Michael Prue, treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy, spoke in favour of a conference centre concept. He said the home is in relatively close proximity to the town’s downtown core and believed a conference centre would be a draw for the community and bring economic development.

Other ideas included themed boardrooms on Belle Vue’s upper levels, having horse-drawn carriage rides at the site, a greenhouse so the town can grow its own plant materials and hold plant sales, a café with caterers on site to prepare food, a seniors’ home and some botanical gardens.

Miceli said he envisions transforming the garage into a kitchen facility.

The potential gardens that could go behind Belle Vue are depicted in this rendering.

“I just don’t think we should be doing that inside the home,” he said. “These are just my thoughts. You don’t have to agree with me.”

Anne Rota, manager of tourism and culture for the town, said her research shows that tall ships and botanical gardens are top attractions for visitors in North America.

Paul Hertel, whose work with the Belle Vue Conservancy has included research into its time as a veterans’ home, said he has no problem with the conference centre idea as long as the public interest is protected. He also said the proximity to Iler Creek could enhance eco-tourism in the area.

Hertel believed a refurbished Belle Vue would enhance the “southern gateway” to Amherstburg.

Historian Robert Honor speaks at a May 29 public meeting regarding potential uses for the Belle Vue property.

The town purchased the site for $1.1 million and a $200,000 donation receipt with the town paying $100,000 down and $200,000 per year over a five-year period on an interest-free mortgage. Cost estimates have ranged from $2-3 million to restore the building itself with restoration of the entire 8.6-acre property estimated at upwards of $9 million.

The second Belle Vue meeting is Tuesday, June 5 at 6 p.m., also at the Libro Centre

Town places moratorium on future signage due to pending urban design guidelines

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A pair of local realtors got their signage request approved, but no more bylaw exemptions will be considered until the town’s urban design guidelines come to council.

Brad Bondy and Amy Bailey from Remax Preferred Realty appeared before town council with regards to a signage request for 103 Sandwich St. S. where their business name will also appear with Amherstburg Flowers & Gifts. However, town council requested that he work within the urban design guidelines and later passed a moratorium on any future signs from anyone else until the design guidelines are finalized.

CAO John Miceli said he wanted the moratorium so that council would have all the information from the guidelines, something a consultant is currently crafting.

“I wanted to make sure we took it into consideration with everything,” he said of the signage request. “All I’m asking for is a moratorium not to make a decision until we have urban design guidelines.”

Miceli added the goal of the urban design guidelines is to give Amherstburg a “sense of place” and that signs should have the “look and feel of the community we are trying to create.”

Councillor Leo Meloche questioned whether the business community should be consulted about types of signage but Miceli said efforts were made with only 20 of 211 businesses coming out to meetings.

“To be quite honest, we’ve had poor representation from the business community,” he said.

Councillor Diane Pouget agreed with the moratorium, saying the town spent “a lot of money” for a consultant to create the guidelines. She added past signage have created potential legal issues.

“Council has been cautioned several times by legal regarding signage and how it is distracting to drivers,” she said.

However, Councillor Rick Fryer reminded council that Bondy and Bailey’s request came before council at the May 14 meeting and was deferred due to council wanting more information.

“If Mr. Bondy was here, it would have been dealt with two weeks ago,” said Fryer.

Councillor Joan Courtney agreed with Fryer in that the matter would have been dealt with May 14 if Bondy had been asked to attend the meeting. She believed it would be unfair to Bondy and Bailey to put a moratorium in place before dealing with their sign request “but it should end here.”

Courtney said future requests should be subject to the moratorium.

Bondy indicated they are willing to work with the town.

“We’re willing to do what you guys want us to do,” he told town council.

Bondy added the proposed sign is attractive.

“It’s nothing grotesque,” he said. “It’s neat, it’s clean, it’s simple.”

Pouget said the town is trying to eliminate sign pollution and that if exemptions keep getting granted, it “defeats the purpose” of trying to come up with urban design guidelines.

Miceli said a report on urban design guidelines could come before town council in July.

“It’s about creating a sense of place in Amherstburg,” he emphasized. “It’s not about preventing signs.”

The area covered by the moratorium stretches from Texas Road to Lowes Side Road and from Meloche Road to the water’s edge.