Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lafarge Plan Approved, Wal-Mart Wants to Expand

Council Takes Charge of Lafarge

The development debate has geared back up in the last couple of weeks, with breaking news in terms of the planning for a couple of controversial sites.

At a council meeting on June 3, a plan endorsing the large scale commercial development of the Lafarge lands in the city’s west end was unanimously rejected in a 10-0-1 vote. The triangular shaped land is currently an open green field bordered by the Hanlon Expressway and two sets of CN Railway tracks that run parallel to Paisley Rd. and Waterloo St., respectively. The land is owned by the Lafarge company, which formally had a plant on the property until it closed in the 90s.

Plans for the Lafarge lands have been the biggest development controversy in the Royal City since the fight to stop the construction of Wal-Mart at the corner of Woodlawn and Woolwich. Many residents in the area of the Lafarge site, most of whom are part of a group called the Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents' Association (HPNRA), have been fighting against the proposed commercial development on the land out of worry of the drastic effect such a facility would have on the neighbourhood.

Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw has been one of the strongest voices in City Hall for the con side of the commercial development. “From beginning to end, several delegates have said (big box stores are) unanimously opposed by the neighbourhood, yet big boxes are still in the proposal,” said Laidlaw. “So much for neighbourhood input. This was mere lip service by the developer in my opinion.”

But the game was not over however. Silvercreek Guelph Developments Ltd, the developers behind the push to rezone the Lafarge site, pre-emptively took the case to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), who has the ability overturn council’s decision. A pre-hearing was set for late last week, but details were unavailable before deadline. Steve Zakem, a representative for Silvercreek said that no matter the decision, his group is still prepared to work with the city, but HPNRA appears intractable saying that any reworking of the site is like “fiddling around with the application and is like putting lipstick on a pig,” according to Susan Watson, an area resident.

While a few of the councillors weren’t opposed to development of the site per se, the vote came down to a matter of logistical problems with the proposed plan. Chief among those was access to any commercial shopping centre on the land that would that would draw more traffic to already congested arteries on Paisley and Waterloo. As well there’s some question as to who would be responsible for the construction of an underpass where the CN tracks divide Silvercreek Pkwy, north and south.

Expanded Service for the Smile?

Mark your calendars for July 7, because that’s when a development oldie but goldie comes back to council: Wal-Mart, who this time is looking for approval to expand.

Scott Hannah, the city's manager of development and parks planning, says look for planner’s recommendations to be released prior to that meeting, but basically it comes down to this: 6&7 Developers want 195,000 square feet of new space. Of that, 65,000 will go to Wal-Mart to add a grocery store while the remaining 130,000 will be up for grabs to other retailers.

The not-entirely unexpected expansion proposal was brought forward just over a year ago and was immediately met with strong opposition from Wal-Mart’s arch-nemesis Residents for Sustainable Development. “Given that this site's location is in one of the least populated areas of the city, and that the vast majority of residential growth is to the west, east and south, allowing more commercial development on this site now would only delay or even stop commercial development in areas where shopping and services are more needed,” wrote anti-Wal-Mart crusader Ben Bennett in a letter to the city’s planning department last summer.

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