MAY 2006
Daniel Pearce

Land has been assembled for a major new development at the northwest corner of highways 3 and 24 that calls for a row of houses to be demolished and a Boston Pizza to rise up in their place.

The project also includes 20,000 square-feet of commercial space featuring "new retailers to the community," said Scott Disney, vice-president of Canadian Commercial Developments of London, which has put the project together.

Disney said his company, which develops retail sites across Ontario, has options on homes along Riverside Drive (formerly William Street) and has almost the entire east half of the block.

One property owner is holding out, he said. If everything goes smoothly, construction for the restaurant could start this fall and next spring for the retail component, Disney said. Right now, the developer is in talks with county planning staff over a number of issues, including zoning.

The project must go before council first, which could happen before July, Disney said.

"We're pushing this as hard and as fast as we can," he said. "We're so excited. We've got more retailers interested than we expected."

Clark Hoskin, Norfolk's manager of economic development and tourism, said the county is about to buy a sliver of land at the corner from the Ontario Realty Corp. and wants to be a part of the site.

"We want to use that intersection for gateway purposes," Hoskin said, adding the county is thinking of putting up a visitors kiosk, a large map or a sign.

Simcoe real estate agent Bill Culver said he has been involved with the project for about a year-and-a half.

"It's going to be a cracker development," Culver said. "It will be a beautiful development."

Disney would not name the retailers interested in locating there.

The proposal comes on the heels of a burst of commercial growth along the Queensway at both the east and west ends. If it goes ahead, the project will join a new lumberyard, hardware store, small plaza, large Canadian Tire store, and a Wal-Mart that have either been built or are in the final planning stages.

The corner, however, has been the subject of speculation, hope, and dashed plans for decades. Culver said a development that would have included a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the same spot fell through about a year ago.

Residents who live on the block say they have been approached by developers in the past and options have been taken out on their properties numerous times before only to see the projects fall apart, usually due to someone holding out for more money.

The land being assembled includes a 3.5-acre parcel owned by a group of investors who include Simcoe realtor Ron Mann.

"Developmental land along the Queensway is disappearing," said John Dyck, who works for R.E. Mann Insurance. "If it's not available, everybody wants it."

Right now, the developer is surveying the land and undertaking drilling and testing. Up to five gas stations have been on the site over the years.

Boston Pizza's front door would face Norfolk Street and have a patio fronting on the Queensway.

Pete King, manager of the Speedy Auto Service station that will be surrounded by the project, said he has seen plans that call for a drugstore in the second phase of the project.

"I don't see a problem with it," Norfolk Mayor Rita Kalmbach said of the project. "We have all kinds of residential growth in Simcoe, Waterford, and Port Dover. People want places to eat.

"There's enough of a market for everyone."

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