Courtesy Guelph Today

January 6, 2016

It is one of the most common complaints in Guelph.

Whenever a new store, business or service opens in the south or west of the city, residents of Gueph’s east side feel stiffed … again.

The lack of amenities, in particular a grocery store, has long been a thorn in the side of those living east of Victoria Road.

We chatted with Ward 1 councillor Dan Gibson about why there isn’t a grocery store and other significant amenities and when there might be one.

If you live in east Guelph you might not like the answers, but it might help understand the situation.

Is there enough population in east Guelph to warrant a grocery store?

Gibson says yes. He estimates 15,000 people live east of Victoria Road.

“The density is definitely there,” he said.

How many grocery stores are there in the south end?

There are five full grocery stores on and south of Stone Road if you include Wal-Mart. It will be six when Longos opens later this year on Clair Road.

“They build (in the south end) because they’re all competing for a piece of the pie,” said Gibson, who sees competition as one impetus for change in east Guelph.

There has also been appropriately-zoned land available in the south end.

Then why can’t east Guelph get just one?

Because the only remaining land big enough to accommodate a large grocery store plaza that is appropriately zoned, at the Starwood Drive/Watson Parkway intersection, is owned by Loblaws, who have not yet chosen to build there.

Why won’t Loblaws build on the land?

They haven’t said.

Popular convention, and Gibson, believe that with no competition in the area, east Guelph residents tend to frequent one of the company’s other stores anyway – namely the revamped Zehrs on Eramosa Road that Loblaws sunk a bunch of money into upgrading a couple of years ago.

As Gibson put it: “Why double down when you’ve got the customers there already?”

He believes the city has waited long enough for Loblaws and needs to be more proactive in opening up more land along York Road to allow for competitors to build.

Did Loblaws ever move ahead with building?

In the early 2000s Loblaws was moving ahead with plans to build a super centre at the location. When Wal-Mart won approval for its super centre on Woodlawn Road, Loblaws shelved its east Guelph plans.

Can’t the city force Loblaws to build or sell the property to someone that will?


Why isn’t there other property where one could go?

Most of the property in the east end has been swallowed up by residential development.

Gibson believes the city made a mistake many years ago by not preserving a larger amount of land for commercial development in its Official Plan.

What’s an “Official Plan”?

The city’s Official Plan is a collection of land use policies that determines how a city grows.
It is intended to make sure a city’s land is used in order to meet the communities needs while keeping in line with guidelines established by higher levels of government.

For example, you can’t build factories on land zoned as residential and you can’t build houses on lands zoned industrial.

A grocery store needs mixed use or commercial designation.

Can’t the city just make changes to its Official Plan?

Not arbitrarily. It is a potentially complex, lengthy and contentious process.

Official Plans are reviewed every five years.

What’s the quickest solution?

For Loblaws to decide to build a grocery store at that location, Gibson said, adding that if it did it would take roughly 14 to 16 months to get a grocery store up and open.

Are there others willing to build a grocery store if land were available?

Yes. Gibson said at least two.

“Create more competition and let the free market dictate,” Gibson said.

How do we make more land available?

Gibson said he continues discussions with the city’s executives to see if there are ways to get zoning changes of existing properties along the York Road corridor that would free up more commercial land ahead of the city’s ongoing York Road redevelopment studies and changes, which are a lengthier process.

While he cautions against false expectations, Gibson remains “optimistic” that there is the possibility a “shovel could be in the ground” before the end of the current term of city council in October 2018 if there was a way to make those changes.

But at this point there are no firm plans or decisions to free up more commercial property on York Road.

Are there any positive steps happening right now?

Yes, but they take time.

The city already has plans on the books to widen and upgrade the roads and other infrastructure on York Road east of Victoria Road that would be a positive and needed step to more development along the corridor.

They have also begun a full commercial policy review of the city, which could identify the need for more commercial space along the York Road corridor.

The old jail lands on York Road are another possibility, but the dispersal of that property by the province is still in the early stages and the city might end up not owning any of it.