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Development battle weary from regulations and pandemic gets no relief from council

The COVID-19 pandemic has added tangles to the building of a $10+ million shopping centre just outside Picton, that was already snarled by red tape from provincial regulations.

Further, an attempt for relief in development charges from council was denied unanimously at Tuesday night’s electronic meeting – citing concern with saddling pandemic-weary taxpayers with more debt.

The development for Jamie Yeo’s new Foodland grocery store, restaurants and retail on Highway 33 across from No Frills, was to have been constructed more than a year ago.

Chisholm noted the company has invested about $2 million into the property, and is committed.

“Prior to the ongoing pandemic economic challenges were very real for this site,” Picton Properties developer Jamie Chisholm told councillors during the online meeting.

“The current pandemic has further impacted the feasibility of retail,” his deputation stated. “Any plans that Picton Properties had for this site with other retailers, most notably restaurants, have completely disintegrated. There is no restaurant retailer, sit down, take out or fast food that will entertain a new location or lease commitment for the foreseeable future.”

Chisholm also predicts a return to “normal” may not change these businesses’ interest and ability to pay an economic rent and lease term that will support the cost of bricks and mortar development.

Picton Properties initiated the building process in 2016, and has since faced a lengthy approvals process due to provincial regulations.

Chisholm attended the electronic council meeting to provide background to a staff recommendation that the municipality reinstate reduced development charges fees, in place at December 2018, for the project. A 50 per cent discount was in effect at the time to encourage economic activity.

“We started our process in 2016. Never did we believe that it would take this time to proceed,” said Chisholm. “In the midst of these challenges we haven’t fled, but we need relief now more than ever.”

Picton Properties could have taken advantage of this discount had the development been able to proceed through the 2018/2019 period.

The result of the discounted rate would have been a discount of $50,702.84. Total development fee projected for the entire development is $413,677.58.

Considering legal “principles of fairness”, and the rule of ‘legitimate expectation’ and given that the majority of the development approval process occurred two years before the end of the discount and final development approval, County staff recommended council approve the reductions for buildings that receive a building permit in 2020 – the Foodland building in phase one. Chisholm said it would take five to 10 years to develop the rest of the property.

The Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw Amendment were approved by council in September 2017 and the Site Plan Control Agreement was approved in September 2019.

Development of the site, originally occupied by Hydro One, has been complex and included a variety of pre-approval studies such as a Retail Impact Assessment, in support of Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw Amendments, and Site Plan Control Approval to permit the proposed retail uses on the site – including the grocery store, restaurants and retail stores.

The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) was originally not supportive of the accesses to a plaza and a subdivision from their highway, so lobbying efforts from the commissioner and council ensued until eventually an agreement was made to create a new municipal street by which both developments could gain mutual access. This led to the requirement for agreements between the County, Picton Properties and the new Rollins Subdivision Development.

The agreements included land swaps and deeding of land to allow for the creation for the new collector road that will provide access from Highway 33 through both the Picton Properties and the Rollins
site to Talbot Street and for Highway 33 improvements to accommodate a new signalized intersection The undertakings required additional studies and approvals at both the County and provincial levels, including two separate Environmental Assessments and a Drainage Agreement with neighbouring Choice Properties.

The approvals are expected to be nearing the end stage (MTO Building and Land Use permits are pending), the staff report explained, noting the process thus far has pushed beyond expected timelines.

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