January 19, 2011

Something special needed beside the Tim Horton's

As published in The Erin Advocate

With construction of the Tim Horton's progressing quickly at the north end of Erin village, I hope it is not too late to put in some suggestions for the lot next door, owned by developer Shane Baghai.

He invited suggestions from the public last month and ideas ranged from a pool to a grocery store. I thought back to the start of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) in 2009, when people were asked what they thought was needed in Erin.

A Tim Horton's was one of the most common suggestions, along with more stores, affordable housing for seniors, better health services, more parks and trails, a pool and many other things – even a paintball arena. The SSMP study is not just about sewers. It is a formal Environmental Assessment of how Erin will evolve, and there will be more opportunities this year for public input.

With construction of the medical centre and the donut shop, Baghai has in short order fulfilled two items on Erin's wish list, while the SSMP chugs along at a snail's pace.

If the Town ever decides to build a sewer system, perhaps Baghai could be engaged to get the job done quickly. Actually, I take that suggestion back; public works should be publicly owned and operated, much as we may be tempted to privatize.

The Town needs to work with developers in a business-like fashion, seeking benefits for taxpayers, just as developers seek a good return on their investment. We cannot expect an entrepreneur to build a pool, with no chance of recouping their money. The Town couldn't afford to maintain a pool, even if were given to us.

So what are the realistic possibilities for this "third lot"? It should probably be a project that will not generate a large amount of traffic. There will already be vehicle issues with Tim Horton's, such as truckers wanting to stop on the shoulders on both sides of the road, no access via the stop light intersection and traffic on Thompson Crescent. That zone could not handle a fast food restaurant, for example, and many people would not want one in the village.

What I would really like to see is a development with some retail on the ground floor and apartments for seniors above – or even a retirement home. The need is great, but I am not hopeful, since the land is not designated for residential growth. There may be better sites, and the Town has frozen residential development while the SSMP is in progress. I don't know if Council could make an exception for a highly desirable project.

I have not spoken with the developer, but I think he would like something that could be built soon, produce a solid revenue stream and look classy. We are a small market, and any growth is projected to be moderate. And while competition is a good thing, I would rather see a new development draw revenue away from other towns, instead of drawing it away from existing Erin businesses. We would appreciate services that we currently have to drive elsewhere to obtain.

If it is to be a store, or group of stores, the SSMP participants suggested a need for clothing and sporting goods. How about electronics equipment? In the entertainment realm, perhaps a bowling alley or a laser-quest style facility. How about an artists' co-op, flea market or farmers' market?

Exactly what goes there depends on an assessment of the market by those putting their money at risk. The main question for the public is whether it will enhance the Town as a place to live and a place to visit.

I am hoping for something practical and distinctive, both in concept and physical appearance. Something that will build on Erin's charm, not dilute it. I do not want to see the town develop into a miniature version of the urban areas I moved here to get away from.

From what I have seen so far, Mr. Baghai has the imagination and drive to make something special happen.