A developer’s expansion bid for an Elmira shopping plaza having been backed by a provincial agency, Woolwich must now decide if it wants to launch a legal appeal.
The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) last week sided with Skyline Retail Real Estate Holdings, which had been turned down by the township after applying to increase the size of the Foodland plaza in Elmira’s south end.
The decision handed down by tribunal member Blair Taylor essentially overturns a previous Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruling against the plaza’s former owner, Sobey’s Capital Inc., which had been stymied in its expansion attempts at 315 Arthur St. S.
The developer wants to expand the permitted uses on the site to include ancillary retail, an LCBO outlet and a Beer Store, to a total of 35,000 additional square feet. Overall, the entire development would be permitted up to 138,000 square feet. Originally home to 51,500 sq. ft. of retail, including a 34,000 sq. ft. grocery store, the site has seen the footprint grown, including an addition of the main building and a new structure.
- Advertisement -
Although held under the auspices of LPAT, the quasi-judicial hearing used guidelines from the now-replaced OMB because the case predated the changeover to the new system, which is designed to give more weight to local government decisions.
The decision was a disappointment to Dan Kennaley, the township’s director of engineering and planning, who argued the development runs contrary to Woolwich’s policies that protect downtown Elmira.
“Our official plan calls for the protection of the core area of Elmira. We thought that was going to carry the day – the tribunal was obviously in disagreement,” said Kennaley this week, pointing to the tribunal’s liberal interpretation of the “main street” provisions, though Woolwich doesn’t have any such policies. “I thought that was quite a stretch.”
The township’s case drew on previous OMB decisions in presenting precedents to support its position, though they didn’t appear to have been considered by the tribunal, he said. Nor did the tribunal share the township’s take on case law.
“We thought it was abundantly clear that you had to protect the downtown.”
Taylor’s LPAT report found there was little evidence an expansion of the plaza would have a real negative impact on downtown Elmira.
“The tribunal finds no evidence of blight or even potential store closings. At best, the township case is that the downtown core area will be ‘weakened.’ Impact alone is not a basis for the tribunal to intervene,” he wrote.
Specifically, the tribunal decision noted that the minimum store size of 7,500 square feet mandated for much of the Foodland site pretty much excluded retail space in the core, where 96.1 per cent of the stores are smaller than that.
The township has 30 days to decide if it wants to appeal the tribunal’s verdict. That decision will have to be made by council, which has one more meeting next week before going on a summer hiatus.