Published on Thursday, September, 03, 2015
East End Development Ramps Up
By Doug Hallett
Guelph Tribune
A Ward 1 city councillor is lauding a newly unveiled plan for a commercial development on York Road east of Victoria Road, but says much more needs to be done to boost commercial services for the city’s rapidly growing east end.

“It’s an exciting project,” said Coun. Dan Gibson, but “I just see it as the tip of the iceberg.”

Construction could start this fall on three commercial buildings on a 4 1/2-acre site located between a gas station and an intersection plaza anchored by a Tim Hortons outlet. The site has had various uses in the past, but has recently sat dormant, says former city councillor Ray Ferraro, who has been hired to act as the project’s development agent.
“I think it will be a good impetus for the east end,” Ferraro said in an interview Tuesday. “I think it will really, really kick-start development along York Road.”

The development will include two buildings at the front along York, which could be occupied by a financial institution and a restaurant, for example, Ferraro said. A larger multi-unit building further back on the site could be used for such purposes as doctor, dentist and accounting offices and hair stylists or barbers, he said.
Ferraro gave credit to Gibson and his fellow Ward 1 councillor, Bob Bell, for their efforts to get York Road reconstructed.

On the urging of those two councillors, council agreed in March to add $200,000 to Guelph’s 2015 capital budget to update an environmental assessment completed in 2007 for rebuilding York Road. The project, which would expand York to four lanes with bike lanes and sidewalks, hasn’t proceeded up to now because of higher priorities elsewhere, city staff told council in March.

Gibson said Tuesday that he and Bell will push council to include money in the city’s 2016 capital budget for detailed design work to be done next year on York Road reconstruction, with a view to getting the road rebuilt during this four-year term of council.
They also want council to include money in the 2016 budget for staff to do a commercial services review of the York Road corridor, as the current service commercial zoning along most of the corridor is too restrictive, Gibson said. The current zoning “limits the broader commercial retail coming in, such as a grocery store,” he said.

There are now eight or nine vacant roadside properties along York Road, Gibson said. “To me, that speaks to zoning, as well as the state of the road.”

Ferraro described the current state of the York Road gateway to Guelph as “a mess.”
About 1,000 new residential units are planned to be built in the east end over the next two years, accounting for 50 to 60 per cent of “new start-up growth” in the city’s residential market, Gibson said. These units will be built mainly in the area off Starwood Drive and Watson Road.

Retail development, and not just service commercial development, is needed to serve the east end’s growing population, Gibson said. However, he said he’s “fully supportive” of the service commercial development planned for the 4 ½-acre site east of Victoria.
The specialized service commercial zoning that the site has had for a long time allows the type of development being planned for the site, said Mike Merker of Park Capital, the development’s real estate agent.

Merker said one of the buildings at the front of the site will have drive-through capabilities that could used for banking or food service. The other building along York could be a single-use, freestanding building or could be divided into smaller units, he said.
The building at the rear, which will have a 10,000-sq.-ft. main floor designed for eight units, might also get a second storey, Merker said. And he said the three buildings are seen as just the first phase of development on the site, with future additions to the site a possibility.

Marketing of the new buildings, which could be ready for occupancy as soon as March, is just starting and no leases have yet been signed, he said. “There is interest. I can definitely say that.”

“I think this will be a good starting point for the east end in terms of commercial services,” Merker said.

Ferraro said the development will be unusual in providing an option to buy units, although leasing will also be offered. It’s being described as “the first commercial condominium project in Guelph in quite a number of years.”

Building permits for the development will be sought once final site plan approval is received from city hall planners, likely within a couple of weeks, Ferraro said.