THUNDER BAY – The question of whether to implement an enhanced requirement of development approval on the Arthur Street Marketplace remains one that city council is still unable to answer more than three years after it was first recommended by administration.
Thunder Bay city council on Monday night held off on a decision to apply site plan control to the property, instead directing administration to explore other potential options that could appease both nearby residents and ownership with a report back expected in September.
Site plan control would restrict any development on the property unless the specific plans are reviewed and approved by the city.
The city entered into an agreement with the original owners of the mall in 1971, requiring a berm on the east side of the property to act as a visual and sound buffer between the mall and the nearby residential neighbourhood along Confederation Drive off Neebing Avenue. It also would prohibit the property to be accessed from Neebing Avenue, unless approved by council.
The issue first arose in 2014 during the planning for the construction of the new LCBO outlet, when much of the berm was narrowed, and it became apparent that agreement was not legally binding for the current owners. Residents submitted a petition with more than 100 signatures and called on the city to have a process to limit the ability for a Neebing Avenue entrance.
City administration had also previously recommended a site plan control designation in January 2015 but it was similarly referred back by council.
Mark Smith, the city’s general manager of development and emergency services, acknowledged applying development restrictions would likely not be in the interest of any property owner but said it would attempt to balance a private interest with a broader public interest.
“Here we have a problem where because an agreement was entered in to in the early 1970s we have neighbours who have an expectation and if we’re trying to reconcile the expectation of the neighbours with the desires of the property owner with the tools we have available and what we do in terms of other developments throughout the city,” Smith said.
Silvio Di Gregorio appeared before council on behalf of the shareholders of Prime Site Corporation, which owns the mall. He said there was no notice of the 1971 agreement when the property was purchased and that it was not registered on the title.
Di Gregorio said a site plan control designation could impede two planned construction projects at the marketplace. First, Di Gregorio said an agreement with Metro to expand their store to 35,000 square feet remains in place, even though construction was supposed to have started two years ago.
There are also plans for a new building on the property, which would be located on the south side of the parking lot along Arthur Street immediately west of the Sifton Avenue entrance.
Di Gregorio said the building would have at least two if not three units, with one potential tenant requiring a drive-thru and another needing an external patio.
One of the tenants, which he said would be leasing half of the building, would require occupancy on Dec. 13.
“Therefore, construction should have already commenced. We had planned on commencing construction at the end of May but we had to revise our drawings once we noticed we had a neighbour right next door to us,” Di Gregorio said, adding an application for a building permit would likely be submitted within the next week or two.
“Thus we are already behind schedule and will need to accelerate our scheduled if we are to achieve occupancy for the desired date. If the property was under site plan control, it would add another six to eight weeks and we would not be able to construct this year.”
Coun. Rebecca Johnson voiced her opposition to the development restriction.
“I have a real problem that we as a city are now saying this is what you can and can’t do with your property. I don’t like that,” Johnson said. “I go to that mall. I do not have a problem with parking or with exiting. The lineups are so minimal and I go at all different times. I really don’t know what we’re trying to do here.”
Coun. Iain Angus proposed the referral, identifying a number of possible alternative solutions including delaying the implementation or applying site plan control to just a portion of the property.