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St. Jacobs power centre to have more rental options

The St. Jacobs big-box retail centre not powering up as expected, the township is broadening the range of uses at the site to help the developer draw in tenants. Official Plan and zoning changes approved this week provide more options at the Smart Centres site, where a decade-long delay appears to have caused typical power centre tenants to settle elsewhere. That’s limited the number of potential businesses willing to locate there, with the problem compounded by land-use restrictions that grew out of the sometimes-nasty debate over the Walmart-anchored project.

In recognition of the market conditions, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley suggested it’s appropriate to relax the restrictions on the property. Allowing a wider range of service commercial uses, including restaurants, opens up the possibility of more tenants, he said.

The changes approved Tuesday night by councillors meeting as a committee of the whole follow an application last spring by owner King/86 Developments. The company argued that current restrictions on the site are making it difficult to lease space there, noting only about half of the permitted 305,000 square feet has been built.

A planning and marketing report prepared for the company prior to a public meeting last May shows the requested changes would generate more business without having any negative impact on existing operations in Woolwich and Waterloo.

After reviewing the studies, Woolwich’s planners – as well as their counterparts in Waterloo – determined some extra uses would be suitable. Among the long list of new options for development are a medical clinic, photo studio, printing/copying/publishing establishment, rental/repair service (rent-all), travel agency, veterinary operation, auction centre and hotel/motel.

Controls over the number and size of restaurants have also been loosened. But the township didn’t want to provide too much leeway for fear the development would fill up with fast-food restaurant chains if smaller operations are allowed.

Originally, the goal was to have large-format restaurants, as is often the case at power centres. So far, however, the only taker has been the Arby’s, and the developer had to use up one of two exceptions to get the 1,800-square-foot restaurant built. Under the new Official Plan and zoning, the developer can have two restaurants at minimum size of 800 sq. ft., two at 1,200 sq. ft. and one at a minimum size of 1,800 sq. ft. (the existing Arby’s operation). As an incentive, the township will allow two more restaurants of at least 1,500 sq. ft. if two larger restaurants of at least 5,000 sq. ft. locate in the power centre.

“The need to consider smaller-type restaurants, recognizing that many of the larger restaurants over 5,000 sq. ft. (such as Boston Pizza, East Side Mario’s, Kelsey’s, the Keg and Swiss Chalet) are already located in the City of Waterloo within a four-kilometre radius of King/86’s development. As such, the list of larger restaurants that would normally be attracted to the King/86 development has diminished over time,” reads the staff report submitted to councillors.

Kennaley said the new arrangement strikes a balance between existing retail in Woolwich and Waterloo and the needs of the developer

“We want the King/86 development to make good use of the land that’s available to them … to allow them to develop in a reasonable fashion.”

Responding to a question from Coun. Julie-Anne Herteis, Kennaley said the decision would have few immediate implications on St. Jacobs-based Mercedes Corp., which also holds land in the stockyards area. It, too, is having trouble renting space at the outlet mall and would like to see restrictions eased there.

Kennaley, however, noted the company is looking for changes that would be better dealt with in the broader context of a secondary plan review that will look at the whole area. The process is set to begin this year, running into early 2013.

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