APRIL 2007
Mark Hulet

After giving the issue significant consideration Goderich municipal council approved the rezoning of 414 Huron Rd. to accommodate a furniture store.

The location currently houses the A&W restaurant and will eventually feature a Crabby Joe's restaurant as well.

In a recorded vote, only two members of council - Coun. Heather Lyons and Coun. Myles Murdock - voted against the rezoning bylaw.

The decision may not yet be finalized, though, as there is a 20-day objection process in which disgruntled business owners on The Square could force an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing.

The OMB is an independent, adjudicative tribunal that hears appeals and applications on land use disputes. When people cannot resolve their differences on community planning issues, the OMB provides a public forum for resolving disagreements.

Both the BIA and the Shoppers' Square Association expressed to council that allowing the furniture store to locate anywhere other than downtown would do irreparable damage to The Square.

Representatives for the furniture store, however, claimed there were no suitable locations in the downtown core. The town's planner, Joyce Wilson, investigated the issue and recommended to council that the rezoning be denied.

"Our department is not satisfied that the operation of the business could not be accommodated within the core area," she said in her report to council.

Should the issue go to the OMB, the town will not only have to pay a solicitor to represent them, they will also have to find another town planner who agrees with the town's opinion and attend the hearing.

It was not an easy decision for council to OK the bylaw. If they allowed the rezoning, the BIA or Shopper's Square Association could appeal to the OMB. If council denied the rezoning, the furniture store representatives could also appeal.

Solicitor Greg Stewart of Donnelly & Murphy said the wording in the town's Official Plan - which is currently being updated - requires a certain amount of interpretation.

Said Shewfelt, "You're always going to have grey periods. You'll never have a perfect plan."

Deputy Mayor John Grace said the new official plan will hopefully clear up some of the issues.

The current official plan does allow for the rezoning of a highway commercial property to allow for a furniture store, but the applicant must answer three concerns to the satisfaction of the municipality: That the size and operation of the business is such that it cannot be accommodated in the core designation or in a grouped commercial designation; That insufficient space is available in the core or in a grouped commercial facility; and That lands in the core cannot be consolidated to accommodate the development.

Stewart stressed that the plan requires all three to be met to the satisfaction of council.

"With the wording of the official plan... For you to allow the rezoning, you must be satisfied those properties in the core area [are not satisfactory]," he said.

The councillors who spoke in favour of the rezoning, including Coun. Paul Elgie, expressed a strong desire to attract economic development and not scare them away.

"If any business wants to come to our town, I want it to come," he said. "I want those taxes, I want those jobs, that traffic... If we keep turning them down, we won't have any [business]."

Coun. David Yates agreed. "It's a question of whether we want economic development or not. I speak in favour of the rezoning."

Coun. Ray Hurd said, having been in business, he understands that location is the key to being competitive.

"Obviously for them, knowing their business, [414 Huron Road] is the right place."

Coun. Murdock was not satisfied that the furniture store representatives had proved there were no adequate spaces downtown.

He also worried that the town was setting a dangerous precedence by going against the town planner's recommendation.

Coun. Lyons agreed. "I'm all for good planning."

Grace said the focus should be on making the downtown core more attractive to business owners and the way to go about that is not to force them there.

"Let's attract them to the downtown core when we can," he said.

Neither the BIA nor the Shopper's Square Association were prepared to comment as of press time regarding whether they planned to appeal or not.

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