- Council has approved Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendments for FLATO’s interim commercial development proposal at Highway 48 and Stouffville Road.
- A close 4-3 vote saw Mayor Lovatt and Councillors Kroon, Upton, and Smith in favour, with Councillors Acton, Bartley, and Sherban opposed.
- The project will bring in ground-level commercial units and restaurants with two drive-throughs and surface parking. A site plan approval process is underway.
- York Region’s Transportation Development Planning Department has raised concerns over drive-through operations, notably in relation to potential entry blockages and spillover onto Stouffville Road. Staff will collaborate with FLATO’s planners and the Region to devise a strategy that mitigates these concerns.
- The site is located within TRCA-controlled lands and is in close proximity to a Provincially Significant Wetland and floodplain, necessitating TRCA permits and buffers which impose limits on development scale.
- Those buffers and permits, as well as hydrogeological assessments, stormwater management plans, and functional servicing, will be addressed through the ongoing site planning process.
While Council offered appreciation for FLATO’s improved architectural designs, Councillors Acton and Sherban reiterated concerns over the project not adhering to Stouffville’s Highway 48 visioning and Official Plan goals. While ground-level commercial is key to strong mixed-use development, the site was intended to include a high-density residential component.
Acton noted typical commercial lease agreements can last 20-30 years, saying such a timeline does not fit his definition of “interim.” “We only get one chance at realizing our vision for our Gateway…We will lose [that] opportunity,” he stated, suggesting Stouffville is “massaging” the Official Plan to accommodate FLATO’s proposal.
Councillor Sherban expressed unhappiness over FLATO not bringing forward a greater proposal after president Shakir Rehmatullah suggested they would consider more. In response, FLATO’s planners mentioned site constrictions due to adjacent wetlands and setback requirements prohibiting a more substantial development.
Sherban also highlighted the demand for more housing and ongoing multi-government push to boost development. She took issue with FLATO’s earlier endorsements of Stouffville’s vision for the area; however, their planners again referenced a lack of existing market conditions to justify a larger build.
Councillor Kroon, on the other hand, sees the proposal as a “novel solution” for a challenging parcel of land. He mentioned Stouffville’s desire for increased commercial activity and said the one confirmed tenant—assumed to be a Starbucks—has been looking to operate in the area for some time. “This is good news for the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville,” he proclaimed, saying the proposal delivers “the services that we need” for residents and those commuting through the Gateway area.
Kroon agreed with Staff’s support for the project and noted developers traditionally build only what the market justifies. He also addressed concerns over the long-term interim use, saying the town is always changing. “If [FLATO] feels the market is appropriate [they] will revisit the property and do something else with it. But if they do that, that’s completely up to them—not us,” Kroon stated. “We’re not the kind of government to force companies to do what they don’t want to do. We don’t do that.”
Parking requirements also informed Kroon’s support of the project. The interim commercial proposal meets the Town’s minimum parking requirements, but adding residential units would exceed the site’s at-grade parking capacity.
Kroon noted that FLATO would need to build a costly underground parking garage to support above grade residential units while still providing ground-level commercial. “[Rehmatullah] doesn’t want to go three or four storeys into the ground to put parking down there, because that is simply not a financial reality,” Kroon explained. In his eyes, such parking would significantly increase suggested rental housing costs. “It’s just bad money after worse…so that’s why he’s not doing it,” he concluded. “Developers do what the market dictates, and it’s our job to support them.”
Councillor Upton also voted in favour of the proposal, saying he is pleased to see the 20 year-old “rat-infested” Ringwood restaurant leaving Stouffville. “Right now, what we have is embarrassing,” Upton commented. “This is the best of the worst: we have this or we have what we have today…And I can’t accept what we have today.”
Mayor Lovatt focused on the fact that existing zoning supersedes the Town’s various visioning exercises. In an exchange with Staff, he highlighted FLATO’s option to simply reopen a restaurant on the site without the need for zoning and Official Plan amendments—resulting in even less built form than what FLATO is currently proposing.
In a subtle point seemingly directed at opposition Councillors, Lovatt expressed hope that Council will not be arguing about height and density for other parcels in the vicinity. “This is the first investment in the redevelopment of the Highway 48 corridor,” he explained, mentioning pre-consultation meetings are already underway for large-scale Gateway projects. “If we want to see density come to this area, I hope [Council will be] consistent when those applications are before us.”