Shoppers Drug Mart Soon to Make First Major Impact in Village Core
As reported in the King Sentinel and the King Weekly on March 25th 2009 regarding the site plan approval of the Shoppers Drug Mart in King City, I would like, as the Councillor for Ward 1, to provide comment in my own words, and to also provide you with a synopsis of the evolution of this site plan development that took place over the course of the last 18 months.
Why Shoppers? Why not something “better”?
Since 2006, it had been rumoured that Shoppers Drug Mart among others, such as Sobeys, and other private developers, had interest in purchasing the old GM Dealership. I had asked our staff to keep me apprised of any sale of this property due to its importance to the core of the Village of King City. As many of you will recall, and to some’s dismay, the existing building was demolished some time in 2007. As I understand it, it was the owners of the old dealership who undertook to demolish the building and clean up the site of hydrocarbon contamination in order to make the land more appealing to a prospective developer/purchaser.
No one wants to buy a contaminated site, and this site was contaminated by hydrocarbons and petroleum byproducts because as some of you will recall, this site not only operated as a new and used car dealership for many years, but even prior to this, it operated a gas station dating back 5 decades or more.
In August of 2007, I was informed that a numbered “Canada Limited” company had bought the land. My immediate assumption was that it had to be either Shoppers or Sobeys as such corporations fit the criteria of a “Canada Limited” company meaning that they are active nationally, and not just in Ontario.
Soon after, Shoppers Drug Mart made it known that they are the new owners of the land and would be pursuing rezoning and site plan approval for a new Shoppers Drug Mart on this site.
Privately, I can recall feeling extremely disappointed, and also somewhat defeated. I wanted something “better” for King City but I knew that our council, even if the majority opposed it, (which was highly unlikely) would have an extremely difficult time defending such opposition at the OMB because our community plan (The Official Plan for King City) does not prohibit this land use on this property meaning, Shoppers had every legal right to apply for this store, in the same way that any residential landowner has an inherent right to build a house or an addition.
Making The Best Of It
As some of you are aware, I am a certified member of the Ontario Association of Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT). My specialty is Civil Engineering, and I have worked in civil engineering and land development for over 20 years. During the election of 2006, I made a commitment to use this experience “in defense of King Township” Shortly after the realization of Shoppers Drug Mart had sunk in, I made a personal commitment to make the best of this and to use my experience to positively engage the Director of Planning and Development at Shoppers Drug Mart in order to test their willingness to make this building fit into our village as best as feasibly and technically possible. The net result is we have secured a building complete with new landscaping and streetscaping that has evolved from an initial submission that failed to hit the mark, to one that perhaps does not entirely hit the mark, but is one that will bestow a very clean and much more pleasing look than what currently exists – that of a weed overrun parking lot with concrete jersey barriers at the street line, cracked and broken sidewalks, fallen down, rusted light standards with the zoning permissions for a used car lot. Had Shoppers not bought this this lot, it may very well be filled with used cars today, with no legal requirement from the Township eliminate that type of use.
The Technical Issues That Limit Aesthetics, The Nature of Aesthetics and Individual Tastes.
During the May 2008 council meeting last year when Shoppers presented the first iteration of the proposed building to the public, the buzz was that it was an ugly, huge, flat roofed eyesore, with a mish mash of exterior stylings that would damage the character of the village.
However, during that meeting I asked Shoppers if they would agree to take into consideration some suggestions that our Heritage Committee might have to make this building fit better into the village core. In terms of the development process that is in place in King Township, this is an unusual request, because the Heritage Committee’s mandate is to evaluate heritage buildings yet no heritage building existed on this site. There was a building that had previously existed, but it had been demolished by the previous owners (i.e. the old car dealership).
Nonetheless, Shoppers agreed to review the Heritage Committees comments, even though there was nothing that legally bound them to do so, except for the desire to build good will within King City as a future land owner, business operator and tax payer in King.
I understood why people wanted a smaller peaked roof building, (I wanted one too) but due to my professional experience, I knew there was a reason the roof was flat, and this had to do with the applicant having to meet the latest Storm Water Management engineering requirements to contain post development storm flows to the predevelopment limit. Without getting too technical, a flat roof can temporarily store storm water – a peaked roof does not. And the redevelopment of any site must meet the latest criteria. It is a function of changing the physical characteristics of the site from a condition that is pervious to rainfall, to one that is not. For example, grass and gravel will absorb rain water and hold it on site, a paved parking lot will not.
Hence, a flat roof was a non-negotiable right and a reality. So I endeavoured to visit the Towns of Collingwood and Bracebridge during my 2008 summer vacation to photograph the character of a couple of well known old style Ontario Towns and what did I find? I found that that the main streets of these Towns were lined with 120 year old, flat roofed buildings situated close to the road. Some will say we have no flat roofed buildings in King City (think again, we do) but my thinking was, lets squeeze some lemonade out this lemon. If King City is going to get a flat roofed building, let’s work to improve the look of that building. I guess the problem I discovered is this…put 10 people in a room and ask them what a “nice looking” building looks like, and you’ll get 10 different answers, which is kind of what happened.
The result was, that being the councillor, and the liaison between the public and Shoppers, I did my best to get them to alter windows, signage as well as colour and texture of brick too closely match existing brick in King City, but also to match some of the building materials that were used on a new building built in the last 10 years in Kleinburg. This building is new, yet was tastefully constructed to look like an old style building. Shoppers agreed to take this into consideration. Additionally, reference to the Niagara on the Lake Shoppers had been brought to our attention.
This occurred when a very nice gentleman who lives in the core of King City (you know who you are) emailed me some photographs of the Shoppers Drug Mart from Niagara on the Lake. I in turn, emailed those photos to Stephen Kitchen, our Director of Planning, who immediately sent them off to Shoppers and argued by saying, “if you can do this there, why can’t you do it here?”. This initiated another lively meeting of which I attended, and it was in this meeting where 99% of what we see on the final plan was negotiated and worked out. That’s not to say that this building looks like the one in Niagara on the Lake, but what was borrowed from it were the forms of signage, lighting, the use of window awnings on the front facing windows, zero back lit lighting, with gooseneck projected lighting…in other words, all the kinds of aesthetic details and flavours that you tend to find on old Ontario “heritage style” buildings. But again, when it comes to matters of taste, everyone’s taste is different.
Insofar as height…this will be a 2 storey building. But then again, the new Shoppers in Aurora is a “2 storey building” (see photo on this page). The difference though, is that the Aurora store has an overall height of almost 3 storeys. It’s huge. Whereas the King City store, is much lower in height with lower ceilings, and it incorporates an articulated second storey meaning that the top floor has a lesser overall square footage than the ground floor such that the walls of the upper floor are set back giving it a smaller appearance and scale than a typical two storey building. The second floor of this building has been zoned to permit professional medical uses such as a clinic for physicians or dentists. Again, this is not perfect. But had we not engaged Shoppers, and if not for our Village Design Guidelines, we might have ended up with a building that looks like the ones in Aurora or Oak Ridges instead of the one that will open in King City one year from now.
And another significant feature that I have yet to mention, this will be Shoppers Drug Mart’s first ever LEED building, to be constructed right here in King City, and this will be the first ever LEED certified building to be built in the Township of King.
The Gift Is Not $20,000 – It’s $30,000
In the first meeting I had with Shoppers, they expressed their desire to make a friendly integration into our village and offered to donate to the Township a cash gift in the amount of $10,000 to $15,000. Thru the evolution of this application, I made several friendly pitches to up that number to $20,000. And when I saw the final planning report on March 19 where $20,000 was listed in the report I was very pleased. But on the day of the council meeting, I called Shoppers again and worked on them to get that number to $30,000 which initially started out with a flat “NO”, but ended 10 minutes later with a “Yes”.
As a result of having collected $20,000 from another developer in Town, we now have a total of $50,000 sitting in a reserve that I have coined the “King City Village Improvement Fund”, to be used, pending approval of council for projects that provide for a tangible, obvious improvement to the Village of King City – to be determined.
Think “A Third, a Third and a Third”
My goal is to grow that pot, and then to apply for a two thirds funding project once it hits at least the $100,000 level. I hope to get funding for a minimum $300,000 project to benefit the Village of King City.
This may seem like peanuts to some, and imagine my dismay when one person suggested I should have gotten 2 million dollars!…but…seriously? I think we’re lucky to get anything considering the changes they agreed to make to the building.
A Political Perspective
I believe that consensus building is the key to being an effective councillor and that such effectiveness is realized when compromises are made out of an attempt to see all sides without shutting the door in any ones face.
Everyone has different opinions and visions. I know that not everyone will see the good that was achieved here, but I know that we negotiated some good things for King City that otherwise would have been lost had I simply said “No to Shoppers”.
Councillor – Ward 1
Township of King