RMOW eyes down-zoning prime village spots 

proposed Move would protect village vibrancy, but may reduce values for landlords

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A "significant number" of commercial spaces in prime village locations could have their zoning restricted specifically for restaurant or pub use.

The move, being discussed by the municipality, is designed to help the collective by keeping the village animated with busy patio activity on the fringe of the public squares, but it could potentially hurt the individual landlords by lowering property values. The initiative is still in the planning stages and has yet to formally be considered by council. It's likely to be a hot-button issue.

"No one likes their choices to be limited and that's what we're proposing," said Drew Meredith at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole council meeting.

Meredith was part of a contingent representing the Business Enhancement Committee, a group of landlords, retailers and municipal representatives, looking for ways to keep the village vibrant. The restaurant spot zoning is one way to do that.

It is not clear how many units are on the municipality's radar screen or where they are located.

When pressed after the meeting staff members would not elaborate, explaining that council has not seen the finer details of what's proposed at this point.

The locations, said Mike Kirkegaard manager of resort planning in his presentation to council, are key to the life and vitality of the village.

"There is a threat to those locations," he said.

He explained that roughly five years ago when the Crystal Lodge was undergoing extensive renovations there was a chance that the iconic Citta's restaurant would be replaced with retail space. Rents, explained Kirkegaard to council, are considerably lower for food and beverage establishments compared to retail.

That would be a landlord's impetus for the change; it would also be a landlord's concern should the space be zoned from commercial uses to the more specific restaurant use.

Landlord and restaurateur Jack Evrensel, who has owned Araxi in one of the prime village spots for the past 30 years, has heard about the proposed change and does not support it.

"It's unfair, for one thing," he said, when he learned that the proposal had been brought before council in an information meeting.

"By regulating spaces to only one type of use, you're limiting its other uses and you're limiting its value."

He questioned if landlords would be compensated for the loss in value.

When later asked about compensation, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said they would not consider that but she added:

"We have to have a lot more discussion both with the owners of restaurant spaces and council hasn't had any discussion about it."

Tuesday's meeting is the first time this council has heard about the proposed initiative, but the concept has been considered at the hall for several years now.

"It's similar process to what we underwent with the CC1 group back in the early 2000s where the properties in the village technically could have, every single one of them, built eight floors of building, and we went through this whole process where we drew the lines around the building envelopes and zoned them to what they already had. So it's a similar process," said the mayor.

More work has to be done on the proposed changes with a potential timeline of the fall for council consideration.

"It's an interesting thing they're trying to do," said Evrensel. "It's coming out of fear...It's a bit unrealistic.

"You have to let market forces work as well."

The spot zoning was part of an in-depth presentation to council about the overall retail strategy.

Part of this strategy is the neighbourhood plan, which divides the village into eight to ten distinct neighbourhoods.

This summer the municipality is moving ahead with the Bridge-to-Bridge pilot project, redefining the area from Ted Nebbeling Bridge to the bridge beside the Brew House Pub. Several of the key landlords in that area have jumped on board with the initiative.

Marvin Hassan, who owns parts of the Delta, told council that he and some others are keen to get on board.

"We're very excited about it," he said.

There is $250,000 in the municipal budget to go towards village rejuvenation this year.

Said Kirkegaard: "I think we're excited that there is a commitment from this council to move forward."

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