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Local businessman appeals re-zoning of property

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Based on the assumption a large lot in the west end of town may be the future site of a Wal-Mart, Pharmasave owner Kim Metke has filed an appeal of town council’s Dec. 9 decision to re-zone property at 1250 King’s Highway.

Citing a number of concerns ranging from environmental to traffic safety to optimal use of land, Metke said Tuesday he’s hoping to see another opportunity for public discussion on the re-zoning decision.

“We have a number of positive options. We don’t seem to be taking advantage of the situation,” he remarked. “I haven’t seen anything from the town that makes me confident that we’re doing something right.

“I was hoping there would have been more public input on this,” added Metke. “It seems to be another fait accompli.”

In the three-page letter submitted before council passed the bylaw, a basic version of the one received by municipal planner Faye Flatt on Jan. 3, Metke listed four issues that should have been addressed before the property was re-zoned.

Citing the $1 million cost of demolishing the old high school, which the Rainy River District School Board already has stated is too high to pay, Metke first recommended council have the applicant business look into developing that First Street East site instead of the one in the west end.

“Locating a new major retailer downtown would bring a host of benefits while solving a significantly costly problem,” he noted.

Metke added it seems illogical to promote retail business in the west end when the town has supported initiatives to try and revitalize the downtown core, such as the “Re-Inventing Fort Frances” campaign.

Secondly, Metke noted the subject land should be retained for future development by a primary employer, such as an industrial plant, since the location is ideal for railroad and highway access—and “may be the only one left in town this size with those attributes.”

“We certainly need primary industries to create the jobs necessary to provide the area residents with stable, long-term employment and begin to reverse the trend identified in the last census of a shrinking population and few opportunities for our youth,” he argued.

Thirdly, Metke noted there are potential negative environmental effects that should be considered, such as the southwest edge of the property that borders on a creek which flows under the highway and through residential areas to the south, and which appears to drain the land located between the highway and the CN tracks.

Covering this with a large building or paved parking area could alter significantly the area’s drainage, and result in flooding in the instance of heavy rainfall such as was experienced here this past summer.

And finally, the town—and thereby taxpayers—may face substantial costs associated with developing the subject land, such as increased traffic necessitating changes to the highway (i.e., new turning lanes), more traffic lights, and possibly even a traffic study.

Flatt said she’s in the process of compiling the appeal, as per Ontario Municipal Board regulations, to submit to the OMB in the next week or so.

“Once they receive it, they will send us a confirmation and a case number. Then they’ll set a date for a hearing,” she explained.

In the meantime, whether the property definitely will be the site of a Wal-Mart has not been confirmed yet.

“The company in question is still doing some internal stuff,” said Flatt. “I know who it is, but I’m not at liberty to what company Stantec [the consultant for the company in question that has been scouting out the site] is working for.”

But it is known from the re-zoning application (to change the property from “heavy industrial” to “highway commercial” that the site—which will be roughly 130,000 sq. ft. in size, including a large parking lot—is proposed to house various tenants for such purposes as retail sales, a restaurant, hair salon, and optical centre.

Council’s approval of the re-zoning was on the condition it be designated as a site plan control area, meaning the business built there must be focused on serving the needs of tourists and local residents, have sufficient parking for large vehicles (such as RVs), be attractive as part of the “gateway” at the west end of town, and pass any water quality, drainage, and erosion assessments, noted Flatt.

This condition also was part of re-zoning done by Canada Safeway during its expansion a few years ago, with the company adding a fence and trees alongside the south side of the lot to look aesthetically pleasing.

Wal-Mart Canada could not be reached for any update on the status of building a store here before press time but Andrew Pelletier, director of Wal-Mart corporate affairs in Toronto, previously said the company’s research shows Fort Frances would be an excellent location for a new store.

“We don’t have a Wal-Mart in the area,” he noted. “Based on the population of Fort Frances and the surrounding communities, and the fact that a number of people leave Fort Frances to go to a Wal-Mart in another community, makes Fort Frances a good market to consider for a Wal-Mart store.”

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