Quesnel council approved a development permit for a two-unit retail building on Rita Road at its last council meeting. Lindsay Chung photo

Council approves development permit for two-unit commercial building in South Quesnel

Subway to move into one unit, Province applying for non-medical retail cannabis store in the other

A new commercial development in South Quesnel will add two new retail units to section of Rita Road where Starbucks is located.

At its April 16 meeting, Quesnel council approved an application for a development permit to construct a two-unit commercial building at the corner of Rita Road and Balsam Avenue East.

The proposal is to construct a 2,500-square-foot commercial building with two units at 775 Rita Rd.

This new building would house a Subway restaurant and a non-medical cannabis retail store.

“Staff have just received notification of an application for the cannabis store from the Province and are processing the application,” planning technician Lyndon Hunter told council. “Should this application not be successful, the applicant will use the unit for another retail use.”

The property is currently in a rezoning process to change the zoning designation from highway commercial to regional shopping centre, and according to the report from the director of development services, that process is nearly complete.

Access would be off of Rita Road, as well as a right-only access off of Balsam Avenue.

A traffic report provided by the application supports the development of a drive-thru of the proposed two-unit commercial building, with conditions noted in the restrictive covenant being registered on title, according to the report. The second drive-thru is not currently being built, but the proposed plan allows for the possibility of installing a second drive-thru in the future, as long as conditions in the covenant are met.

City staff noted that the City distributed notice regarding this development proposal, and there have been no submissions.

The proposed development meets all zoning requirements except for the required minimum floor area of a retail commercial use building, so the applicant is asking council for a variance.

“A variance is being requested to lower the required floor area for commercial retail space,” explained Hunter.

“The intent of this regulation is to maintain specialty shops in the downtown and West Quesnel business areas while encouraging larger retail and vehicle-oriented stores in the highway commercial zones. Staff recognize the limitation of building size is not adequately serving the intended goals of this commercial area and are amending these policies in the master zoning bylaw, which is under development.”

The applicant is also proposing to complete the final phase of paving, he told council.

Councillors were generally supportive but raised some concerns about the development and about parking and traffic flow in that area.

Coun. Mitch Vik raised a concern about the flow of traffic entering and exciting the development and using the parking lot.

“I think this is a good development,” he said. “[But I wonder] is there anything we can do to mitigate and calm traffic coming down Rita, because there will be more cars obviously if there’s two retail stores adjacent to these existing businesses. Where one exits Dollarama, that corner can be challenging if you’re not paying attention, and my only concern is with additional traffic and load on that road, there could be instances of traffic accidents.”

City manager Byron Johnson told council the traffic study done for this area indicated the roads would be adequate for the developments, and council has numerous tools it can use to calm traffic if necessary.

“Council has in the recent past limited parking by big trucks on that whole stretch, which has helped, versus what it used to be when we had trucks parked on the sides of the road,” he said. “As far as other tools, those are at council’s discretion. Council has the discretion over the roads in the community, so whether there’s traffic calming needed, whether there’s perhaps a reduction in speed, whatever is needed, those are council’s tools if needed in the future. We can monitor the situation, and if it seems to be getting worse, bring recommendations to council.”

Mayor Bob Simpson was also concerned about the turn at Balsam Avenue, as well as the mud bog across the street that can make the road pretty slick.

Simpson also raised the issue that if Subway moves into this new space, they will leave an empty space further down the road, as the space where Subway currently is and Taco Del Mar used to be will become empty.

“That whole mall area where the current Subway is ended up with an unfilled new retail space, and we got a development space and we got a development proposal to finish that space with more retail space, and we said no to that because it was speculative retail, and we didn’t think we should support speculative retail space when we have so much empty retail space in West Quesnel and in our downtown core at the time,” he said.

“Now the old Mark’s [Work Warehouse] is empty… so I do have a little bit of a concern where we have a due process, what is effectively a spec. retail space with a potential renter.

“I think we need to have a discussion about what we can do to make sure that space that’s empty at the end of that whole block doesn’t start to get abandoned because it’s our gateway.

“This is one of the balancing acts you’re doing all the time,” he continued.

“You’re inviting investment and so on, but there are lots of communities that have fallen into the trap where they’re building space to move existing retail, and I don’t think that is, in general, a good thing for us to do. I think we’ve avoided it in the past, and we should be very careful that we’re not getting into that trap in the future.”

Simpson says he does think it makes sense for Subway to move up to where Starbucks and Tim Horton’s and the other businesses are, and he recognizes there has been a lot of work to get to this point in the development process, but he wanted to put his concerns on the record that he thinks they are building “a bit of a redundant retail space.”

Coun. Martin Runge was “definitely” in favour of the project.

“A little bit of densification in that area by Starbucks would be good for that area,” he said.

“I think for the Subway on the other end in the location where it is with the old Taco Del Mar, it is in a location that is going to be empty anyway if it doesn’t move, so I really believe this actually enhances that area.

He also believed the city can mitigate the traffic areas Coun. Vik was referred to.

“I think we should look at it as a separate issue, how the traffic flows, but [as for] the permit, I think this is a good use of [the] land.”

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