New plaza being considered for Devonshire Street

At Saugeen Shores recent planning meeting, Council heard a proposal from London planner, Laverne Kirkness, representing Westdell Land Development Corporation, along with Executive Vice-President of Westdell, David Traher, for the development of a shopping plaza at the corner of Devonshire and Goderich Streets.

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“Just to let you know who the developer is,” Kirkness said, “they have several commercial enterprises that include 17 to 20 story buildings in London in addition to commercial centres and 100 lot sub-divisions. This (Saugeen Shores) property looks like pretty sound land use based on the land-use policy framework for the County (and municipality).  We are however asking for a larger land use by changing the rear lands from residential to highway commercial to make it more viable.”

He added that the discussion held with the County and Saugeen Shores planner, Jay Pausner seem to be “reasonably positive although there seems to some difficulty with respect to landscape coverage … and we will continue to work on that. Basically the site plan presented is what we propose.”

Before the development goes ahead, zoning on the property would have to be changed from residential to highway commercial and, in addition, existing buildings on the property will be demolished to accommodate the plaza that, according to Kirkness, would include a grocery outlet and a major coffee retail outlet such as Starbucks.

Councilor Dave Myette, said that it appears to be an exciting project and, as the commercial core of Port Elgin expands, it seems to fit in.  “It pains me however to hear of the demolition as I belong to a group dedicated to the preservation of old barns.  I would like to think that this sentiment stands true for all of us as go about the countryside and see these heritage structures becoming fewer and fewer and farther in between.  Has there been any thought give by the developer or through the planning process for repurposing, preserving, taking down and rebuilding or the barn structure?   These barns have value to them and I’m sure it would not just be cut up into firewood.”

Kirkness, chuckling said that the developer had not heard of any significance about the house or barn.  “We have not therefore devoted our minds to that but,” again chuckling said, “we are prepared to look at that in bringing back the final recommendation.”  “When looking at a photograph of the barn,” laughed Kirkness, “it did not strike me as being a significant barn structure.  I appreciate it’s old and we’ll certainly look at that in terms of degree of significance it might have … although I don’t think Saugeen Shores has any kind of heritage list where it’s included therein.”

David Traher added that they would be willing to look at the structures and consider what to do with them that would “keep people happy”.

“These may not be on the Heritage listing but these buildings are typical of this period and this area,” said Myette. “I would encourage you (developer) to go to Ontario Barn PreservationThere is value in this wood if the structure can’t be saved and there are companies that will take it down and use the wood over again.”

Councilor Cheryl Grace also pointed out that Saugeen First Nation had evaluated a cottage that was to be torn down and decided, instead, that it could be used and there moved the structure.  “Perhaps that might be an option and you could contact them.”

Deputy Mayor Don Matheson also raised a concern that the site-plan shows three entrances from Devonshire Street.  “It is becoming a very busy street and I would like to see two entrances to avoid traffic congestion. I think it’s a great development and look forward to what’s coming there.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau pointed out that the site planning process would include more detail but that the planning meeting was to decided on the By-law change that would allow the project to go ahead.

Vice-deputy Mayor Mike Myatt said that it is an exciting development for Saugeen Shores and he has no issue with the ten to eight meter setbacks at the front and sides.  “Regarding landscaping, I think this is the perfect opportunity, particularly on Goderich Street to do a first-rate, gold standard with landscaping coming into our community.”

The developer’s plan is to reduce landscaping from 30 per cent to 20 per cent.

“This is a first time plaza of this kind in Saugeen Shores,” added Myatt.  “Wouldn’t it be nice to take a look at having sitting benches, trees, picnic tables, and for me and the community, it’s important.”

Mayor Charbonneau pointed out that under the By-law there is a requirement for 30 per cent open space and the applicant is asking for a reduction to 20.6 per cent.

“I am not supportive of the reduction,” said Myatt, “and I understand the developer wants that extra space.  We are also promoting being a bike-friendly community and the Deputy Mayor is now establishing a Bike Friendly Task Force.  How receptive you are (developer) on how to move pedestrians through this development in terms of bike racks and how to get in and out of the development?”

“The site plan shows room for 20 bicylces,” said Kirkness, “but we could look at providing more. We are focussing in on the pedestrian connectivity through the streets and to the rear of the site.”

Saugeen Shores’ Jay Pausner and the developer’s landscape architect met in discussion and Kirkness said that the developer is “sensitive to that” (landscaping).  “I don’t know that we’ll reach the 30 per cent.  There was a lot of discussion about ‘where does landscaping really count?’ Quantity is one thing but quality is another. It was suggested that we look at the nautical branding of Port Elgin and try to be consistent with the theme of the town.  So, it wouldn’t be just plants and shrubs.  We would be looking at things to be consistent with the branding of the community.  We recognize this is the front door to the community and from Goderich Street (Hwy. 21) everybody sees us, and that’s why we want to be there.  There will be substantive improvements as we move toward site-plan approval.”

“As to where we land with the percentage of landscaped open space,” Kirkness chuckled, “I know we’ve done a lot of these commercial centres and 10 to 20 per cent landscaping is the minimum or somewhere in there.  I know Port Elgin would like more and we’ll try to give more but I’m not sure it’s going to be 30 per cent.  Hopefully, we’ll come up with something that makes the town governance happy.”

Councilor Kristan Schrider agreed on getting closer to the 30 per cent landscaping but her main concern was with sound buffering particularly to the residential area at what would be the rear of the plaza.  “The site plan shows what would be the loading dock area for the potential grocery store and this would mean trucks coming at four or five in the morning and backing onto a residential area.  Maybe part of the landscaping would be included in the sound buffering.”

Mayor Luke Charbonneau added that he wants to see the landscape percentage increased.  “Figure out what reduction you need and don’t ask for a greater reduction than what you need.  We would like to see you as close to 30 per cent as possible and it will have to increase before we consider the application.”

“What does this clause mean, ‘A request for relief such that the calculation of leasable floor space shall not include the outdoor lease area’? asked the Mayor.  “What is the difference between outdoor seasonal area and all the other floor area or sales area proposed.  Why should it be excluded from the parking calculation?”

County Planner Barbara Mugabe said that based on seasonal, outdoor sales takes up 18 parking spaces resulting in a parking shortfall.

“Parking is most needed in spring and summer and that’s when we take away 18 spaces?” said the Mayor.  “I think the sales area is being approved in a zoning by-law that will be forever and whether it’s seasonal or not … and what does seasonal mean?  We see a seasonal tent or sales area in a parking lot that eats up parking spaces.  What’s important to me is whether there is enough parking for the development. So i would like to make sure, either from the applicant or the planner when this comes back, that I get some assurance that with the removal of 18 spaces in spring and summer it will not create a bottleneck or parking problem.  i want to make sure we aren’t approving something that isn’t going to work.”

Kirkness said that, after decades as a planner, the process of not including outdoor space is pretty normal.  “The parking standard which goes back to the 1960s is based on the day before Christmas.  The five spaces per 100 sq. metres is pretty luxurious and took into account the busiest time of the year.  Most municipalities are receptive to reducing parking rates.  You know that, even in Port Elgin, many of the spaces don’t get parked upon very often.  Seasonal use does only operate basically in Spring and Summer and for the other half of the year, it’s a parking lot.

Mayor Charbonneau reiterated that he did not want to see the parking space below what will be needed for the development.

To view the Applicant’ presentation:  CLICK HERE

For more information on this application