Easing restrictions on the types and sizes of businesses that can locate there would help bring in more tenants, say the operators of the power centre in St. Jacobs.
To that end, King/86 Developments is seeking Official Plan and zoning changes for the Smart Centres site on Farmers Market Road, making a case for the idea at a public meeting Tuesday night in Woolwich council chambers.
Kiet Ngo, representing Smart Centres, said the goal is to broaden the number of businesses that could set up shop at the power centre under the service commercial zoning designation, including professional services.
The company also wants to remove restrictions that require restaurants, with only two exceptions, to be larger than 5,000 square feet.
Current restrictions on the site are making it difficult to lease space there, he said, noting only about half of the permitted 305,000 square feet has been built.
A planning and marketing report prepared for the company shows the requested changes would generate more business without having any negative impact on existing operations in the Woolwich and Waterloo, said Bernard Tang of Malone Given Parsons.
He noted the service commercial designation is more restrictive in Woolwich than in other municipalities.
And a marketing assessment shows smaller restaurants are common in power centres – 90 per cent are smaller than the 5,000 sq. ft. limit.
Smart Centres has used up one of its exceptions with the 1,800-sq.-ft. Arby’s restaurant. There is interest from other operators, including A&W and Sunset Grill, but the current zoning means the company has had to turn away prospective clients.
“Easing that would assist in attracting more tenants,” said Tang.
While no one spoke against the proposed changes – a big difference from the earlier fights over the Walmart-anchored big box development – Marcus Shantz of St. Jacobs-based Mercedes Corp. argued the township should look at the restrictions on the entire area known as the stockyard lands. His company, which operates the farmers’ market and outlet mall, among other ventures, has also been squeezed by the historical limitations placed on development there.
For example, some 9,000 sq. ft. in the outlet mall – about 10 per cent of the total space – sits empty because of the restriction that says only manufacturers can operate stores there.
His concerns struck a chord with Mayor Todd Cowan, who suggested the township needs to ensure it’s not limiting business opportunities because of past notions about development at that site.
But Coun. Allan Poffenroth, reflecting some of the arguments made during the height of the power centre debate, said the township should take into account the potential negative impacts on downtown Elmira and Uptown Waterloo, arguing against “carte blanche” changes.
Woolwich does have plans for a comprehensive review of stockyards development, which would include its impact on the overall commercial picture in the township, especially on the Elmira core. That study was slated for this year, but was pushed back during budget deliberations.
Director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley said the big-picture issues would be incorporated when his staff reviewed King/86 Developments’ applications in advance of preparing a recommendation report for council at a later date.