Town proceeds with Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments for Wesley United Church property

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has proceeded – by 5-2 vote – to proceed with Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments for 365 Sandwich St. S. but residents will be consulted before any site plan agreement is finalized.

The site, which Wesley United Church is in the process of selling and moving out of, was the topic of a roughly 90-minute public meeting Monday night that included council recessing the meeting at one point to allow proponents to discuss with neighbours concerns nearby land had with the proposal.

The brief 20-minute session, which saw discussions move to the boardroom adjacent to the council chambers, resulted in representatives from Josterhaus Inc., the applicant who proposes to redevelop the site into a commercial plaza, agree to requests to have a patio abutting neighbouring properties at one of the proposed restaurant pads removed and to lower a building that backs onto King St. homes from 10 metres to 7.5 metres.

Josterhaus Inc. and Dillon Consulting, the latter being retained by Josterhaus Inc. to provide a professional planning opinion in support of the Official Plan and zoning bylaw amendments, also agreed to have a public meeting with adjoining homeowners to discuss the site plan, something council included in their motion as well.

The Official Plan amendment will see the property go from institutional to general commercial while the zoning bylaw amendment sees the land use designation change from institutional to holding special provision commercial highway zone. Town council, in agreeing to it, will allow a reduction in sideyard limits on the north and south sides to 6.1 metres from 10 metres and a reduction in parking spots from 117 spaces to 114.

Melanie Muir, representing Dillon Consulting, noted the sideyard provision and parking reductions may not come into effect depending on the final design of the plaza. A conceptual site plan sees two restaurants on either side of the Sandwich St. S. entrance and a large building with two commercial tenants back onto King St. but Muir and Steve Newman of Josterhaus Inc. noted that is far from final and could change.

Muir noted there are “no set tenants” and while discussions with potential tenants has occurred, nothing has been signed.

“There’s still potential to move things,” she said.

Park St. resident Ron Duby had been concerned over matters such as the patio that had been planned for the potential restaurant that would be near his property as well as fencing, lighting, smell and traffic issues.

“The church was always good neighbours,” he said. “We never had the traffic we are going to have now.”

Duby hoped the town would hold off on a decision and take a longer look at the matter.

“We are the people living there. We’re the one’s going to have to deal with it,” he said.

Pickering Dr. resident Yves Gagne said he was in favour of the development but was concerned with how it was laid out. He said he had “serious” concerns with traffic flow and congestion at the site.

“I can’t understand how an engineer can present such a plan that is illogical,” he said.

Jeff Turner, who lives on King St., had concerns over the height of the rear building, particularly the originally proposed 10 metre request. He feared his family would not be able to see the setting sun and that the tranquil nature of the area could be disrupted.

“That’s why I moved into the neighbourhood,” he said. “It’s quiet. It’s safe. That’s why we moved here.”

Councillor Carolyn Davies also had concerns over the height request and also the potential for congestion while Councillor Bob Pillon had voiced an issue with the patio plan that was eventually dropped.

“I don’t like patios at the rear of a residential area,” he said. “Patios are noisy.”

Muir indicated the prospective tenant that was contemplating the patio is a cafe and that the patio would not have seen outside service. However, others on council and the community wondered if that could change should other tenants move into that building in the years to come and apply for a liquor license.

Davies said the town needs development and was one of the five – along with Mayor Wayne Hurst, Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland and councillors Pillon and John Sutton – to vote in favour of the amendments.

“When businesses come to Amherstburg, taxes come to Amherstburg. It takes a burden off the ratepayers,” she said.

Muir said a traffic study had been done but others on council still were concerned.

“It is our duty as a council to keep our residents and citizens of Amherstburg safe,” said Councillor Diane Pouget. “I am not convinced this is a safe project.”

Pouget expressed concerns over traffic as well as such matters as bicycle lanes and turning lanes. She also voiced concern over how updated nearby residents were kept on the proposal and how much they knew about what is potentially planned.

“I’m all for progress but not at the expense of the safety of our residents,” said Pouget.

Councillor Bart DiPasquale also expressed issues with an increase in activity at the site, noting while he is not opposed to development, it could come as a “shock” to neighbouring residents to have the site potentially developed into restaurants and retail outlets.

“Everything seems cluttered together in my view,” said DiPasquale. “I’m going to have trouble voting for it right now.”

Sutherland said he was encouraged by the fact the developers met with residents and made changes in a quick fashion and voted in favour of the development. Sutton agreed, stating if the applicants continue to work with residents it is a positive step forward.

“I see this as a step in the right direction for all of our residents,” said Sutton.

Hurst pointed out the applicants can do “absolutely nothing” without site plan approval. He also stated the town has made significant investments to try and entice development in Amherstburg.

“The more investment we get in the town of Amherstburg, it increases our tax base,” he said.

Newman noted they were still looking to “fill the box” and pledged to work with residents on how the “box” would be filled with buildings, parking, landscaping and other amenities that comprise site plan approval.

“We can’t move one inch of soil until we have site plan approval,” he told residents. “We don’t have a legal right to move one inch of soil until we have a building permit. We can’t get a building permit unless we have site plan approval.”

Town planner Rebecca Belanger believed many of the residents’ concerns can be addressed through the site plan, also stating the process is far from over.

“This is not final yet,” she said.

 

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