The empty building at 134 Main Street West could soon have a new tenant.
The property was formerly the home of West End Motors and has been empty since the new Armstrong Dodge location opened on Kinton Avenue in Commerce Park.
Huntsville’s Development Services Committee heard from Town staff at its June 12 meeting that the owner of the property sought a zoning amendment to permit a new tenant, an auto parts retailer.
The former business on the property had been permitted as a legal non-conforming use.
Staff recommended that the zoning amendment request be denied because the use doesn’t conform with the current Official Plan.
“The Main Street West Mixed Use Area is generally comprised of low density residential uses, and various commercial businesses. In this designation, the Official Plan contemplates residential development and limited commercial uses, including general offices, accommodation, personal services and recreational uses (188.8.131.52). A retail use is not contemplated in the Official Plan,” staff wrote in their report. “The previous use of the property as a ‘motor vehicle dealership’, which included the sale of automotive parts as well as vehicles, was considered legal non-conforming since 2008 when the comprehensive zoning by-law 2008-66P was implemented. Although the proposed use is similar in nature due to the product being retailed, both are separately defined uses in the zoning by-law, as such a stand alone retail use is not considered legal non-conforming.” The proposed tenant was not identified in the report.
Local planner John Gallagher, who represented the property owner at the meeting, noted that it could be argued that the new business would be a continuation of the existing accessory use of the property because auto parts sales had been occurring there.
He also noted that the proposed use of the property would conform with the Town’s new Official Plan, which is still awaiting District approval.
Mayor Scott Aitchison said that some context regarding the Official Plan would be helpful to committee in making a decision.
“One of the things we were trying to do was we were thinking the West End would eventually gentrify with more residential, some higher-density residential and that there would be complementary convenience commercial kinds of uses that went along with that. One of the things I’ve learned in this planning game is just because we think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen that way and it takes a lot longer for those policy initiatives to take effect in a place like this than it does in the GTA,” he said. “So I have no doubt that one day this property will be some kind of high-density residential development, but in the short-term, this is an existing business that needs to expand and that’s great news for us. This has been empty for a while and I just think if we can see our way to doing the exception and getting it full and actually bring some vibrancy back to this property that’s good for everybody.”
He also recognized that staff are required to follow “the letter of the law” in their recommendations, and that at times it’s up to committee to overrule those recommendations.
Other members of committee agreed unanimously. Councillor Jonathan Wiebe added, “We are here to find some clarity when staff are simply doing their job and can’t find another way around it, and here we are to decide if in fact exceptions should be made. I believe it should be.”
Committee Chair, Councillor Nancy Alcock, said that she understood where staff were coming from and that “I also respect the fact that we do have a new Official Plan and if it was in place, it would conform.”
Committee approved the amendment to include a retail store as a permitted additional use.
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