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Living Waters Christian Bookstore seeking move to Elmira site

Looking for a new place to call home, Living Waters Christian Bookstore has its eye on a former farm dealership in Elmira.

Currently based in Linwood, the company wants to consolidate its offices, warehouse space and a retail store under one roof. To that end, it’s seeking an official plan amendment and zoning change on the property at 122 Church St. W.

Most of the former Premier Equipment site is already slated for residential development in conjunction with the Lunor subdivision, but Living Waters wants to sever the front portion and make use of the existing buildings to serve as the company headquarters.

The company aired its proposal at a public meeting before Woolwich councillors last week.

Although zoning on the property already allows some retail, it doesn’t cover the range proposed by Living Waters in keeping with its four retail locations, which includes books/reading material, indoor and outdoor games, Bibles and religious material, kitchenware and gift items, among others.

“It’s a request for a limited range of additional retail uses,” noted Dan Kennaley, Woolwich’s director of engineering and planning, of the proposed zone change.

Some of those uses are typically found in the downtown core rather than in a service commercial area, he said of concerns about the proposal.

In isolation, less of an issue, but there is a pending application for a similar expansion of uses in a service commercial zone elsewhere in town, said Kennaley.

But the company’s planner noted the operation really isn’t suitable for a downtown location, while the proposed site already allows a range of retail uses.

“It’s not really that far of a stretch,” said Andrew Head of planning firm Dryden, Smith & Head.

He added that the retail store is only one component, with Living Waters having some trouble finding a location that has zoning in place for all three of its needs. The Church Street property checks most of the boxes, right down to reusing the existing buildings.

The proposed uses are compatible with the site, he argued, noting he expects the operation to have less traffic and other impacts than the previous occupant.

“Is it good planning? It sure is,” he said.

Head described the retail portion as a “destination store” that will draw people from outside the area.

Since its launch in 2004 in Linwood, Living Waters has expanded to four location, with a booming online business and a wholesale operation that provides material to some 100 retailers. It has now outgrown its original home, he said.

The proposal would see about a third of the current property – 8,410 square metres of 25,072 sq. m. – allocated to the Living Waters operation, with the rest forming part of the Green Acres subdivision that’s already received draft approval. The two existing buildings would be used for a warehouse (1,096 square metres or 11,797 square feet), retail store (981 sq. m. or 10,559 sq. ft.) and office space (140 sq. m. or 1,507 sq. ft.).

In response to the sole question raised, Head noted the company expects truck traffic and hours of operation to be less than was previously the case when the site was home to the farm dealership.

Councillors didn’t raise any issues, with the matter now being sent back to planning staff for review. A recommendation report will come at a later date, with council making a decision at that point.

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