Scratch the expanded supermarket. Delete the Beer Store. Forget about the restaurant. How about a dollar store? Well, maybe.
Sobeys Capital Inc. had some significant development in mind for its Elmira site, home to the Foodland grocery store. Meeting with resistance, it scaled down the proposal, but even that was too much for Woolwich planners, who recommended against allowing a Dollarama store in the long-vacant unit adjacent to the Arthur Street supermarket. Councillors had a different take, approving the dollar store in a split vote Tuesday night.
With two of five councillors absent at this week’s meeting, however, the issue may take on a different flavour when council reviews the decision on Sept. 25.
What will be discussed is a far cry from the plan Sobeys rolled out last year.
Under the original proposal, the Foodland would expand into the vacant portion of the existing building, increasing in size to 47,000 square feet from the current 34,000. A 22,000-sq.-ft. addition would be built on to the current structure, some 9,000 sq. ft. for a retail outlet such as a dollar store and 13,000 sq. ft. for a mix of retail, services and offices, perhaps including a wine store. Two separate freestanding buildings would be constructed on the west side of the current parking lot, closer to Arthur Street: a 6,900-sq.-ft. unit to house a restaurant with a drive-thru (Harvey’s being the name attached to the project at the time), and one of 8,000 sq. ft. that could be the new home of the Beer Store.
From the start, Woolwich planners worried about the impact on downtown Elmira if Sobeys received the necessary Official Plan and zoning changes needed to advance the project. A subsequent peer review of the market-impact study produced by the applicant recommended against the project, calling it detrimental to the commercial core. Even just the Dollarama store would have a negative impact, according to the peer reviewer, Robin Dee & Associates.
Potential plans for a pet food store occupying 2,000 sq. ft. of the building conform to existing zoning and wouldn’t require any township input.
Given the township’s goal of protecting the core, staff recommended against even the scaled-back version, director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley told councillors.
“It’s going to hurt the downtown, we think.”
Representatives for Sobeys Capital, however, disagreed with the assessment, arguing a dollar store would have no impact on the downtown. Instead, a Dollarama operation would “repatriate dollars” Elmira residents now spend at other such outlets, particularly at the King/86 power cent, a market of about $2 million, said Roslyn Houser, a partner in the law firm Goodmans LLP.
A Dollarama store of 9,000 to 12,000 square feet is not suitable for the core area, she said, noting the company had looked at options, including construction at the corner of Church Street and Memorial Avenue, but the former Procast site was deemed too off the beaten track for that use.
Given the average visit to Dollarama generate a $7 sale, customers want easy access: parking immediately out front that allows them to get in and out quickly.
Addressing a question from Mayor Todd Cowan, Houser said there’s room in the market for Dollarama along with similar shops downtown, adding it’s not really council’s role to govern competition between dollar stores.
“People like to comparison shop,” she said, pointing to several locations where Dollarama stores operate near operations such as The Bargain Shop.
Cowan was unconvinced, ultimately voting in favour of staff’s position. He was alone in that position, however.
Coun. Julie-Anne Herteis agreed to the much smaller proposal, saying the project would create new jobs and bring some money back into the township.
With councillors Mark Bauman and Allan Poffenroth absent, it fell to committee-of-the-whole chair Coun. Bonnie Bryant to break the tie. She cast her vote in favour of the project, turning down staff’s recommendation. As is always the case, the decision of the committee will have to be voted on at the next formal council meeting, where there Bauman and Poffenroth could weigh in on the issue.
Regardless of the decision, there could be some development in that area later this fall, as work is expected to get underway on the neighbouring property, the future home of a Canadian Tire store.