Meeting with just three members present Sept. 18, councillors approved Sobeys Capital Inc.’s plan to put a Dollarama store in the long-vacant space adjacent to the Foodland grocery store at Arthur Street and South Field Drive. This week, with the return of councillors Mark Bauman and Allan Poffenroth, council reviewed the proposal and ultimately defeated it with a tie vote.
Before voting Tuesday night, Poffenroth excused himself, citing pecuniary interest, as he owns commercial property downtown. After he left the room, Bauman asked for a recorded vote, which meant that Mayor Todd Cowan was also forced to make a decision on the matter. With Poffenroth gone, Cowan made for an even number of votes; under municipal rules, a tie vote results in a defeat.
“If it wouldn’t have been a recorded vote … then the mayor would not have been asked to vote. It’s not unusual, normally in situations like that they will call for a recorded vote but you end up in a tie and what is unusual about a tie in the planning realm is that in a planning decision you’re supposed to try and make a decision to approve or reject. When you do a tie vote you are kind of in planning limbo because of the non-decision,” said chief administrative officer David Brenneman.
The proposal was defeated when councillors Julie-Anne Herteis and Bonnie Bryant voted in favour and Bauman and Cowan against.
With Cowan’s vote the issue became a stalemate. And a controversy arose.
Cowan’s wife and mother-in-law own and operate Gramma B’s Craft Den located on Union Street in Elmira. He did not declare a conflict even though the Dollarama usually sells similar items in its store as does the Craft Den.
“I did not have a conflict, they (Craft Den) are not in the BIA, they are not in the downtown. I sit on the BIA as the council rep and I voted the way I voted because I felt we do need to protect the core in the downtown,” said Cowan during a phone interview later in the week.
Sobeys has wanted to develop the Foodland site for some time but has met resistance and was forced to scale down their initial proposal that would have the grocery store expand into the vacant portion of the existing building.
Woolwich planners recommended against allowing a Dollarama proposal.
Before they voted, council received delegations for and against the project.
Ann Tomadini, who owns and operates the Elmira dollar store, said a Dollarama would have serious effects on the downtown core, causing stores to close and leaving vacant buildings.
“Please consider that as new stores open in the Sobeys location anything that duplicates stores that we already have in the downtown core, one-by-one we will lose the stores in the downtown because we can’t compete with a big franchise store,” she said. “I believe this would be the beginning of the end of the downtown.”
Hugh Handy of GSP Group representing Sobeys said the proposal for the site was appropriate and had been scaled back considerably.
“We recognize the importance of the downtown and that is echoed through our planning report. It is also recognized that this is a service commercial designation with permissions that have looked towards accommodating large types of stores,” he said. “We feel this site will compliment those uses on the site and not harm the downtown.”
Before voting, Bauman said he was struggling with the issue but decided against Dollarama, noting council has made an effort to try and revitalize the downtown core and this could take away that option.
Cowan, too, had reservations.
“I look at the small town businesses and they are the heart and soul of the small town. We have had businesses come and go within the township and within Elmira but I look at the dollar store — it’s one of the places that is always friendly and has the Elmira touch. I agree with free enterprise but I also agree in downtown cores and we need to check what we want to see in our downtown and what makes up our downtown. We have here in Elmira seen small businesses lately close up either because of recession or on their own but here we will be forcing a business not to have a chance,” said Cowan for his decision not to support the Dollarama.
Herteis and Bryant both said they had not received any negative comments about the proposal from business owners.
“I have talked with a couple of shop owners who have been established for 30 or 40 years and they said they have a strong clientele and they are not worried about this. We are going to end up bringing in another 1,200 homes and we are going to need more businesses here and more jobs in this area,” said Herteis.
Although the application was denied with the stalemate vote in accordance to the planning act if council fails to make a decision the applicant, in this case Sobeys, has the ability to appeal the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board.
“I don’t know if the applicant and our township staff can talk about things or maybe … there can be some mediation some consolation between the applicant and our staff,” said Bauman after the vote.
This week’s decision is subject to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.