Kent council has voted to approved zoning and community plan amendments that would allow for a Tim Horton’s, gas station and convenience store to be built at the intersection of Highway 9 and 7.
On Monday (Feb. 8) the District of Kent held a public hearing for the amendments to the district’s zoning bylaw and official community plan (OCP). The changes mean that the three properties, located across from the Esso station on Highway 7, are now rezoned from Rural Residential 2 to Highway Commercial, which would allow for the area to be used as a service-oriented place for the travelling public.
The other amendments included the properties in the Development Permit Area for downtown revitalization, which means owners would require approval for the form and character of any potential buildings on the site; changed the OCP to reflect the rezoning; added “fueling station use” to the zoning bylaw; and limited commercial activities in the Highway Commercial zone so it doesn’t duplicate those allowed in the downtown core.
Because of COVID-19, the public hearing was closed to the public. Interested residents could provide written comments in advance of the meeting, or share their comments during the meeting via Microsoft Teams. Despite the lack of audience, the hearing still ran for an hour and a half, as staff read out the written comments provided for the hearing.
Comments provided at the public hearing showed a varied opinion on the proposed redevelopment, with around half in favour of the proposal and half opposed.
Those opposed were largely concerned about that a large company like Tim Hortons would “kill all the ‘Mom and Pop’ operations in the district that have been here for years,” as one resident put it.
One resident asked how the district could “justify businesses cannibalizing already established businesses in the area.”
Helen Eddy shared her concerns that development outside the downtown core would turn Agassiz into a new version of Princeton, with gas stations and fast food locations on the highway stopping people from visiting the downtown core.
“When was the last time anyone visited that small town?” she said. “Keep our small town that: a small town. Not a long, drawn-out fast food buffet.”
There was also a number of concerns about the environmental impact of a development in that area, particularly in regards to the runoff from the property. Traffic concerns around drivers cutting across lanes to enter the gas station or having long backups during the summer were also discussed.
People who were opposed to the development found common ground with those who approved with some reservations when it came to the redevelopment of Wilson Road.
In the proposed development scheme, which requires a development permit from the district to go ahead, Wilson Road’s north end would be turned into a cul-de-sac, leaving the only entrance and exit for the roadway as the awkwardly angled west end that connects with Lougheed Highway.
Eddy said that “a developer suggesting such a change to a local road for their financial success is a slap in the face,” and others seemed to agree.
Edward Eaton wrote a lengthy letter about how the the development would impact Wilson Road, which would see its north end closed off in the development plans.
“Forcing access to Lougheed Highway from the west end would create an extremely dangerous situation for the residents and users of Wilson Road,” he wrote.
Eaton suggested that if the development proposal moves forward, the north end of Wilson Road will need to be left open. If that’s not possible, he suggested that Wilson Road be realigned at the west end to better intersect with Lougheed Highway, or have the road connect with Sweatman Road.
|The proposed redevelopment of Wilson Road’s west access. (District of Kent)|
OTG Developments did provide a redevelopment option for Wilson Road’s west end with their letter to council for the public hearing. This change would see Wilson Road curve before it hit Lougheed Highway and bisect the highway at a 90 degree angle, rather than hitting it straight on as it does now.
Brent Dozzi, traffic engineer with the company that did the development’s traffic study, also said OTG Development’s had been in discussion with the Ministry of Transportation about moving the 50 kilometre an hour speed limit west to encompass Wilson Road and other private driveways on Lougheed Highway.
“We see a safety benefit not only for Wilson Road but all those folks that live west of Wilson Road,” Dozzi said. He also noted that although there are traffic concerns for that area, they haven’t translated into ICBC crash statistics. He had more concern is raised about the “weave” created by traffic coming off the north end of Wilson Road and moving through lanes of traffic so close to the intersection.
“There’s a lot more argument for closing Wilson Road north and improving Wilson Road west based on all those comments,” he said.
Those in favour of the development were, on the whole, less verbose than those who were against the development. They spoke about the possible jobs it would bring to the community, and the increase to the tax base.
One student at Agassiz Elementary Secondary wrote in to say that it would bring employment opportunities to the area.
Mayor Sylvia Pranger spoke on behalf of former mayor John Van Laerhoven in favour of the proposal.
“Citizens are requesting services,” she said for Van Laerhoven, “and commercial development helps to provide the taxation base for some of those services to be provided to people.”
After the public hearing, council discussed the changes in the regular council meeting. Coun. Stan Watchorn had already requested assurance from staff that concerns around water and sewer access, drainage and Wilson Road would be addressed before a development permit was issued, and Coun. Duane Post had reiterated his concerns around traffic impacts.
In the regular meeting, Coun. Kerstin Schwitchenberg shared that some residents had spoken with her about their worries that commercial development at the intersection would create a precedent for more to come.
“I just wonder whether we’re setting a precedent to divide the downtown commercial core,” she said.
CAO Wallace Mah said that council would still need to look at any future amendments to the OCP on their own merit. Although this change would allow commercial use on these three properties, it doesn’t necessarily mean more will follow. Pranger also noted that other properties in the area would be less likely as efficient commercial spaces because of their highway access.
Council ultimately approved the changes to the zoning bylaw and the OCP. However, any development on the site would still need to go through the development permit process. This would include a discussion around the form and character of the potential development, as well as requirements for the developer to make sure issues around Wilson Road’s redevelopment, drainage and services are dealt with before approval.