Council was divided Tuesday on whether to accommodate new business or respect the community’s wishes after being presented with an application to convert the Willows Neighbourhood Pub into office space.
Applicant Kevin Mills told council that a limited number company intends to purchase the building, which includes a pub and a liquor store, and lease it to a log brokerage company which would convert the pub into offices.
“We have been searching for a suitable office location and this seems to be a logical solution to both the buyer and the seller,” Mills told city council at its meeting Tuesday evening. “The land and building have been on the market for some time now and there have been no offers to continue the pub as is.”
Mills said a suitable location for the brokerage company’s offices was hard to find in the traditional office areas, such as downtown, and the Willows Pub on Rockland Road is attractive because of the parking. Mills said the building needs to be able to accommodate eight to nine vehicles for its eight employees.
City staff, however, disagreed that the Willows Pub is a suitable spot.
Chris Osborne, city planner, told council in a report that offices would be contradictory to the Official Community Plan, which dictates that the land the pub currently sits on must be used for community use. Osborne recommended council oppose the application to re-zone the property to allow office space.
“Offices are not a suitable use to be woven into residential areas and do nothing to contribute to a sense of neighbourhood and place, as they do not ‘serve’ the surrounding area,” Osborne wrote. “To permit such a use at this site may set an undesirable precedent leading to further loss of other valued community facilities.”
Coun. Larry Samson, however, suggested the official community plan could be changed (a process that would take two to three months) to accommodate the re-zoning application to accommodate offices, to help the owner.
“We have a letter from Mrs. Thulin (owner of the Willows),” Samson said. “They’ve tried to sell the property and make a go of it. (This) is the best way to recycle this building. To have a building that sits there empty is not what we want to see. There are situations where we have to make changes and we do have to allow certain zonings.”
Mayor Walter Jakeway, who said the sale is supposed to close by the end of the month, also tried to help out the owner.
“To tie the owner down – once it’s a pub, it’s always a pub – is amazing,” Jakeway said. “In this case we’re saying ‘it’s stuck’ and we’ve got to unstick it somehow and hopefully we can expedite this.”
Coun. Andy Adams, seeing at least 12 e-mails to the city from neighbours opposed to turning the pub into offices, made a motion to pass first and second reading of the re-zoning application in order to forward the issue to a public hearing.
“I am neither for or against this zoning amendment, I want to make that perfectly clear,” Adams said. “But consistently with any OCP (official community plan) amendment or zoning amendment, council has been consistent in letting the public have their voice and so proceeding to a public hearing enables that.”
Coun. Claire Moglove, said she couldn’t support changing the official community plan, which the community put so many hours into creating, in order to accommodate a use that’s not accepted by the plan.
“I see the OCP as more than a guideline, it’s the community’s expression of what the community wants to see,” Moglove said. “This application is a significant deviation from the OCP in that the intended use does not serve the neighbourhood. Having said that, I think it’s important for the neighbourhood to express their views, so I’ll support first and second reading to see this out.”
Council in the end, voted in favour of passing first and second reading and sending the issue to a public hearing.
Mills, meanwhile, said if the re-zoned, the new owners plan to renovate the building to look similar to Beyond Beautiful Smiles in Willow Point, to integrate the building into the neighbourhood and give it a residential feel.