Their site already approved for a commercial plaza, the owners of a vacant property at the intersection of Barnswallow Drive and Church Street in Elmira want to switch over to predominantly residential development.
Nomadiq Elmira Towns Ltd. is looking for planning amendments on the 1.5-acre site at 15 Barnswallow Dr., making their pitch at a public meeting Monday night as Woolwich councillors met via videoconference.
Where a one-level strip mall-type facility had been approved, the company now wants to build 45 stacked-townhouses along with six residential units above a much smaller ground-floor commercial space. To that, it will need changes to the site’s zoning and to the township’s official plan.
Shifts in the retail market, including more online shopping, mean the original commercial plaza is no longer viable, said Scott Patterson, a planning consultant to Nomadiq. The company found there weren’t enough potential tenants.
That met with some concern from Coun. Patrick Merlihan, indicating he’d like to see a market study to justify the applicant’s claim. He also questioned why the municipality goes through the effort of making planning documents when developers simply come in asking for changes.
“It seems like any property is up for grabs to do whatever you want with,” he said, suggesting there should be demand for shopping given the tremendous growth on the west side of town.
Township planner David Gundrum said the changes would shift the property to be predominantly residential, with the only other commercial blocks earmarked in the Lunor subdivision on the north side of Church Street.
The shift to residential raised concerns for some of the site’s neighbours.
Robb Road resident Justin Durrer said parking and traffic are already an issue, adding he was “baffled” by the request to move away from the commercial development.
“In the summer months as it is our road and Barnswallow fill up quite a bit with [existing] residents,” he said, suggesting traffic signals might be needed at the intersection.
Those issues were echoed by Bristow Creek Drive resident Jake Radcliffe, who questioned squeezing so may units onto the property. The site is on a higher grade, so a three-storey building would have residents there looking down into the existing yards, he noted.
“It’s not the most favourable thing to us as neighbours from a privacy standpoint,” he said.
Traffic concerns were shared by Douglass Dann of Gale Presbyterian Church. Although “we want to be good neighbours,” the church had a number of concerns, including the need for traffic lights, he said.
In response to a question from Mayor Sandy Shantz, Gundrum said there are no plans to change the intersection, either with traffic signals or a roundabout.
This week’s meeting was solely in information session, with council making no decisions. After more public consultation, planning staff will bring a report back to councillors at a later date.