A month and a half after being sworn is as Cornwall’s newest mayor, Justin Towndale tells Seaway News that a lot is going on behind-the-scenes to lay the groundwork for what’s to come. Some of these things include hiring a new CAO and filling vacancies within the city and boards as well as scheduling a strategic planning session with city council.
A couple priorities in the coming months include striking up a task force for homelessness and one for doctor recruitment in the city – two areas where we need improvements fast. Towndale spoke of needing both short and longer-term solutions for problems like homelessness because there are people outside now that need help.
Mayor Towndale also shared that he plans to prioritize partnerships with our neighbours in Akwesasne and the Counties, with our federal MP, Eric Duncan, and others.
“I look forward to working with MP Duncan on [waterfront acquisition], because it’s a big file and he is ready to go to make sure that we do that in a timely fashion and that is important to the city,” Towndale said.
Later this month he is attending to Rural Ontario Municipal Association Conference in Toronto and in the next few weeks, Towndale will take part in delegations with the counties regarding areas of interest to the city, such as highway 138 and Great Wolf Lodge.
When it comes to building on existing partnerships with the counties, our new mayor believes more work can be done. During his first term on city council, Towndale recalls that South Glengarry asked the City of Cornwall for water services. This is something that still hasn’t been finalized.
“I also want to look at things like transit and how we could work to potentially have transit in south Stormont, South Glengarry, and Akwesasne. Just in casual conversation, leaders in those communities are interested but there’s a lot that goes into that to get it going,” he explained.
“I would like to see Cornwall Transit evolve into a more regional system. I don’t think we could cover all of SDG by any means but if we do 15-20 minutes outside the city that’s not a long distance and it could help people who want to commute into the city or do things for the day outside the city.”
One of the things that Mayor Towndale mentioned was improving quality of life for residents by continuing to invest into parks, neighbourhoods, and infrastructure.
“I still want to look at Sunday transit,” said the mayor, “Right now, I am getting inquiries from local businesses and local industries saying, ‘We want to increase our shifts, but we need Sunday service to do it.'”
One thing that is not a city project, but the city is very interested in seeing movement on is the superschool proposed by the public-school board in 2017. The plan is to close both CCVS and St. Lawrence Highschool and combine them into a larger, new school to save on renovation costs. Right now, the school board is looking into potential locations. Towndale shared that they may have found an ideal spot and believe this could be a top tier school in the province, but with inflation in construction costs they may need more funding before they can undertake this huge project.
Great Wolf Lodge is another big thing coming to the city in the next few years. For those who were concerned that GWL would require overnight stays, Mayor Towndale shared that the plan is for this location (like most US locations) to offer day passes. Another concern that has been heard around the city is: with all this development and our current housing crisis, where is everyone going to live?
Mayor Towndale acknowledged that finding a solution is ongoing. He mentioned that several subdivisions are currently being built in the city, as well as the city’s own affordable housing projects on McConnell and on Pitt Street. He also brought up the possibility of Great Wolf Lodge building their own worker accommodations, something they have done in the past.
“At the end of the day the best we can do is have a positive, productive and encouraging atmosphere for developers to build housing, to build apartments, because that’s what’s needed mostly is apartment buildings within the City of Cornwall so that people can move here,” he said.
Towndale mentioned that growth in neighbouring communities like Long Sault and Glen Walter may offer different options for people looking to live near the city and do a small commute. A shelter could also be part of the answer, although not everyone wants to see a shelter built in Cornwall.
“One of the arguments that I’ve heard is that people will come here from other cities and take advantage of the shelter we offer. I mean, people are coming here anyway, and they have nowhere to live. And quite frankly I think it’s in our ability to try to help people out,” Towndale stated.
Mayor Towndale went on to explain that that a well-run shelter is not a place to stick people and forget about them.
“The idea of having shelters or facilities like tiny homes for example, (because that could be what the shelter looks like it doesn’t have to be a giant building and I think that’s where some of the concern comes from) but the idea is to help them, get them back on their feet, provide the services they need, give them a safe environment and then if they are able to – reenter the workforce. Or if they are already working get them set up so they can look for more permanent housing. Right now, we are in a housing crunch but there are businesses that can’t find workers in the city. The city is understaffed across the board. We need employees. If people want to come here and they can’t find housing, but we can get them in the workforce with a temporary solution like a shelter that’s a win for everybody.”
These changes that are in the pipeline now will have huge impacts on the city by creating jobs, increasing the tax base, and giving Cornwall more visibility from the 401. The mayor pointed out that things are happening but not tomorrow.
“I moved back eight years ago to Cornwall after living in Toronto for 12 years. Never regretted it. And I’ve seen a lot of change,” shared Mayor Towndale, “I am going to do whatever I can, and you know, it’s a team effort. There’s a council, there’s administration, but it’s also the residents as well because there is a lot of good people doing good things in this community. Some of them work in the background but I think if we can all work together to move forward everyone is going to benefit from that.”
“I am excited for the future of Cornwall. I am excited to have been given the opportunity to lead us at least for the next four years and to be part of that change. By 2023 you’re going to see a whole new Cornwall. Its going to be completely different and its going to get noticed,” he concluded.