by Chris Pickup

The vacant land south of the Medical Centre on Argyle St. South in Caledonia may finally see some commercial development.

The land’s owners applied to Haldimand council in committee Tuesday to rezone the two acre parcel from Community Institutional to General Commercial, which while still including institutional use would also have broader commercial applications.

The property is presently on the market and rezoning would make it more ‘desirable’, according to county planner Benjamin Kissner. There are no current fixed plans for the property. It’s essentially a matter of pre-zoning, he added.

While the proposal met with general staff approval, it met some resistance from councillor Craig Grice.

Making it more ‘sellable’ would add $20,000 per acre to the selling price, Grice charged. “The county needs institutions for seniors, why are we changing it? There is no plan, they just want to sell.”

Kissner noted the official plan covers the property for commercial usage. The existing usage is restrictive and the owner has not moved forward with that.  And no strong argument will hold up in a tribunal setting, he warned.

Craig Manley added “the legacy of the proposal put forward at the time is not entirely consistent with the official plan.”

Mayor Ken Hewitt queried why not do it for the rest of the  properties “or we’re going back down this path years down the road.” Manley noted the rezoning would happen as part of comprehensive zoning.

Owner Peter Smith told council that when he first bought the property back in 1988, sewage allocation was a big problem. At the time the idea was for a 60-bed retirement home, but there has been no interest shown.

“Now facilities have got bigger. It’s not economical to build a 60-bed home. Every expression of interest is in a general commercial zone,” he said.

The county will retain ownership of the municipal drain that runs behind the property, which will also serve as a buffer between the two acres and the residential development to the east.

Committee approved the zoning change, to be ratified at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Once a proposal takes shape, any development at the site would be subject to site plan control, and a holding provision that will require a developer to complete an archaeological assessment and confirmation of servicing allocation.