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Outlet mall wants to ease restrictions on tenants

The owners of the St. Jacobs Factory Outlet Mall want more flexibility in finding new tenants. To that end, they’re seeking official plan and zoning changes to loosen restrictions on the types of retailers that can operate there.

The amendments sought by St. Jacobs Countryside/Sunlife Assurance were the subject of a public meeting at a Woolwich council session Tuesday night in Maryhill. Unlike past planning discussions involving the outlet mall at its outset, no one from the public came to address the issue. The only speakers were a planner representing the applicant and a planner from the City of Waterloo indicating his department would submit written comments next month.

Marcus Shantz, president of Mercedes Corp., said in an interview the following day that the proposed amendments would bring no significant changes to the 100,000-square-foot mall on Benjamin Road.

“We’re not seeking to change the character of the mall in any fundamental way,” he said, explaining the goal is to be able to widen the list of prospective businesses operating there. “We really do need to have the freedom to bring in some complementary stores to keep the place tenanted and fresh.”

Current zoning sees them having to turn people away. In some cases, the restrictions leave possible uses open to interpretation, which forces prospective tenants to face delays not seen anywhere else, he added.

In opening the public meeting, Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning, said the amendments would see the mall’s primary use remain as a manufacturers’ outlet. The proposed changes reflect the shifting industry standards for outlet malls.

In response to a question from Coun. Allan Poffenroth about the extent of non-manufacturer’s retail space, the applicant’s planner said those details are still under review.

“We don’t have a specific percentage in mind,” said Stephen Gardiner of the Lakeshore Group.

Unlike past planning discussions involving the outlet mall at its outset, no one from the public came to address the issue. In that regard, it resembles the 180-degree shift in attitude about the nearby power centre, once the topic of raging debates and now a subject that doesn’t cause a ripple.

Coun. Mark Bauman noted as much when he pointed out that he would typically expect to see lawyers from Conestoga Mall, Smart Centres and other nearby retailers at these meetings. While not present, they and other interested parties can submit written comments.

Joel Cotter, the planner representing Waterloo, said the city would submit written comments in September, pointing out the complexity of analysing the proposed changes, especially in regards to the cross-border servicing agreement that sees the Waterloo provide water and sewer services to the site.

Kennaley said there will be plenty of time for comments, but noted “the sooner the better” in getting submissions to the township.

For Shantz, the same market changes that saw Smart Centres, operators of the neighbouring big-box retail development, request zoning amendments meant it’s time for the outlet mall to broaden its options.

“For some time we’ve believed that we need to get a little more flexibility in the zoning there. We have to operate under restraints that no other outlet mall in the province faces.”

This week’s meeting was simply for information purposes, the initial stage of the process. No decisions were made Tuesday night. Kennaley told councillors he expects to have a report back to them later in October or November.

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