By Doug Hallett
Two west end residents are trying to rally opposition to a proposal to make a Costco store the anchor of a big new commercial development on the city’s western outskirts.
Flyers being distributed to residents on and near Whitelaw Road by Donna Driskell and Helen Arbour, who both live in the area, list traffic congestion as their top concern. They’re especially concerned about more traffic on Whitelaw Road, which the flyer describes as “a two-lane road with many young families.” Traffic “increased quite a bit” on Whitelaw when the city’s biggest Zehrs was built a few years ago at the corner of Paisley and Imperial roads, Arbour said in an interview Thursday. Now there’s concern that traffic on Whitelaw will “increase all the more” if a Costco is built west of Elmira Road, across from the Zehrs site, she said.
Driskell said she didn’t know about Armel Corp.’s request for rezoning of its land to allow the Costco-anchored development until the day before a June 5 city council planning meeting where the development proposal was introduced. Arbour said she didn’t find out about the rezoning proposal until the day of the meeting. As they distributed flyers last week and spoke to some residents, they said they found both a lack of awareness and considerable opposition to the rezoning proposal.
“We are concerned that residents are not aware of the proposed rezoning,” Arbour said. When they spoke to people about it, most were opposed to a Costco-anchored development, she said. Aside from traffic congestion, their flyer lists three other objections to allowing a Costco that could be as large as 158,000 square feet.
It’s poor planning, the flyer says, to put a Costco membership warehouse outlet in Guelph “15 minutes away” from an existing Costco in Kitchener.
Guelph should have “one-stop shopping” for big box stores, the flyer says, and “if we must have a Costco in Guelph, put it on Woodlawn Road with all the others.”
It also says a big box store like Costco would be “an eyesore in our primarily residential neighbourhood” and could affect businesses already established in the west end. “Costco has a reputation of putting other stores out of business,” the flyer says.
The flyer urges people to call Ward 4 councillors Cam Guthrie and Gloria Kovach to “let them know you are against Costco and other big box stores coming to our neighbourhood.”
It also urges people to express their views and “have your named added to the NO list” by emailing email@example.com – an email address the two women said they set up specifically for this fight.
Driskell said that if council allows Costco to build on Armel’s site, the city should look at how to get shoppers to the site without increasing traffic on residential roads.
One problem, Arbour said, is that Whitelaw Road connects with Highway 24, while Elmira Road currently doesn’t meet up with this busy highway linking Guelph and Cambridge. Elmira currently stops on its south end at Fife Road.
Armel’s site is “kind of hidden,” Arbour said. “I don’t see why the big box stores would want to go there.”
Before Costco agreed to locate on Armel’s site, there was talk of it going in a new commercial development on the former Lafarge quarry site near Paisley Road, Waterloo Avenue and the Hanlon Expressway.
That site owned by Silvercreek Guelph Developments Ltd., which “is right off the Hanlon,” would be another good place for a Costco, Driskell said, as would Woodlawn Road near the Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Silvercreek Guelph Developments Ltd. originally wanted to build 450,000 square feet of retail space in its development. However, a December 2008 settlement mediated by the Ontario Municipal Board reduced this to 245,000 square feet.
Armel is asking city council to put no cap on the amount of commercial floor space that could be built on its 32-acre vacant site west of Elmira Road and north of Paisley Road. The Costco would be built at the north end of this site as the first phase of a big development, council was told June 5.
The same council meeting received a letter from a lawyer for Silvercreek Guelph Developments Ltd., saying Armel’s proposed Costco-anchored development could make the Silvercreek development redundant. “Our client is concerned that the large-format uses proposed by Armel would potentially duplicate the planned function of the Silvercreek mixed-use node,” said the letter from lawyer Steven Zakem.
Council hasn’t yet received any recommendations from city planning staff about Armel’s proposed development. The June 5 meeting was the initial public meeting, held so that people could voice their opinions before planning staff give any advice to council.
There were no public delegations at the June 5 meeting.