After a heated discussion, and with some final input from CAO Michael Morris, Smiths Falls council members decided to defer a decision about a zoning amendment application at 18-22 Main Street to the next CoW meeting in early October.
Karl Grenke, Senior Planner, received a zoning plan amendment September 6 “to allow ground floor residential uses on a permanent basis, and remove the limitation on the number of dwelling units.” Currently, ground floor dwelling is only permitted on a temporary basis there. At the moment, the main floor contains two residential units with a smaller vacant commercial unit. The upper two storeys are occupied by four apartments.
An early September public meeting elicited the following comments: neither Enbridge Gas nor the LGL District Health Unit had concerns, but the Downtown Business Association did. Comments included that ground floor residential makes the downtown less appealing, lowers curb appeal, breaks-up shopping experience, less desirable (noise, privacy), and need space for potential commercial tenants.
Owner and applicant Jonathan Neri rebutted: layout and ceiling height not attractive to commercial ventures, ground floor desirable from accessibility standpoint, affordable housing, and maintains flexibility for possible future commercial use if market changes.
The question, said Grenke, is this: is it appropriate to formalize on a permanent basis a land use that has been approved on a temporary basis for this property. He presented several options to council — approve the zoning amendment, defer, or refuse to approve.
Councillor Lorraine Allen read a letter from the Downtown Business Association. “Allowing ground floor residential use in the downtown will limit the availability for retailers of all kinds in our main commercial area.” It went on to list a ground floor dwelling would make the area less appealing for existing and future small business owners, and for tourists and visitors who might wish to find a variety of places to shop and eat.
Councillor Cummings noted that originally the building was residential on the ground floor and that has fluctuated over time.
“We don’t want residential creeping into the downtown core,” he said, but he felt the core was large enough to accommodate it at the present time. “We need more flexibility for landlords, we need a compromise.”
Councillor Brennan agreed a compromise was necessary otherwise the town “…might end up with an empty building and people looking for a place to live.”
Councillor Quinn struggled with the concept. “I do like commercial downtown. I don’t want to walk down the street and see someone stretched out watching TV. There would have to be guidelines for residential, it would have to be controlled, and the backyard developed.”
Mayor Pankow reminded council there were residents in the building and that a 12 month period should be given before enforcing a decision.
Councillor Gallipeau commented, in his opinion, “don’t mix commercial and residential on the same floor.”
After other complications had been noted and taken into consideration, Morris offered that “the other option is to defer to a later date. It’s important to make the right decision, not a quick decision.”
The issue was deferred to a special Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for either October 1 or 8 with the time to be confirmed.