Sunday

Merritton Development Update #2

Merritton old town hall has potential
Posted By Doug Herod

Some interesting swap talk taking place in Merritton these days.

It involves a piece of property owned by developer Nino Donatelli behind the Hartzel Road Dairy Queen, the old Merritton town hall, the Merritton fire hall and the Merritton branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

If that sounds complicated, it's because it is.

Here's the background:

The fire hall on Walnut Lane, at the back of the old town hall, has been considered sub-standard for years.

At one time, the city had targeted the south-east corner of Glendale Avenue and Mountain Street as the site for a new building. But that location was deemed inappropriate once The Keg property beside it was developed.

The search for a 0.8-hectare (two-acre) site has continued.

Meantime, one of Donatelli's companies bought the old Domtar property, which includes a large swath of land behind Hartzel Road, north of Oakdale Avenue. A small parcel of that land near the Dairy Queen has attracted the city's interest for a new fire hall site.

As Merrittonians may have noticed, Donatelli has an interest in old buildings. He fixed up the crumbling edifice that now houses The Keg and he's worked the last few years retrofitting the Lybster Mill that was once part of the Domtar plant.

He sees potential in the old Merritton town hall and wouldn't mind getting his hands on it.

Thus, the swap talk - Donatelli's property behind the DQ for the Merritton town hall and fire hall, with maybe some money exchanging hands, too.

Donatelli's plan could involve tearing down the not particularly historic or architecturally interesting fire hall to provide parking for the tenants of the old town hall.

Who might a prospective tenant be? That's where Legion Branch 138 enters the picture. And where things start to get even more complicated.

Donatelli's legal beagle Patrick Little met a couple of weeks ago with the Legion branch executive, brought them up to speed about possible future Merritton happenings and suggested there may be an opportunity for the Legion to sell its building and move operations to the old town hall.

The branch, a much-cherished presence in the community, is housed at the end of Chestnut Street East, a stone's throw from the town and fire halls. The immediate neighbourhood is mostly residential. The branch is also hard by a CN/Trillium Railway spur line.

The spur line is in the process of being declared abandoned, and buyers for the property are being sought. Donatelli is an interested purchaser because removing the rail line would bolster residential plans for his neighbouring Domtar site.

Acquiring the nearby Branch 138 land might also suit the planned housing project.

And the former town hall building, which has had trouble finding a successful adaptive use since the St. Catharines Museum moved out in 1990, seems, on the surface at least, a reasonable alternative for the Legion.

There are a couple of major problems with these real estate musings, though.

Donatelli doesn't own the old town hall and Branch 138 is happy with its current digs.

Given what's on council's project dream list, who knows when it'll get to stuff like building new fire halls. Following Little's "exchange of information" with the executive, branch members met and voted overwhelmingly to reject the idea of relocating.

Still, swap talks continue to percolate.

Both Little and city boss Colin Briggs characterize property negotiations related to a new fire hall as ongoing.

As for the Legion, Little said that while members have indicated they're not interested in moving, "I don't imagine that door would be closed if we went to them and said, 'OK, we're a little further down the road now. Here are some additional things for you to consider or reconsider. And here are some numbers.' "

Branch president Jack Gemmell couldn't be reached for comment.

Clearly though, we're not talking about something that's going to happen tomorrow.

Therefore, I might look into that councillor/snow plow swap proposal.

With this latest dump from the skies, it could be a steal for St. Catharines.

Doug Herod's opinion column appears Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

dherod@stcatharinesstandard.ca

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