Elora residents spoke of the unease they felt around future Elora Mill development at a public meeting Wednesday night, particularly when it comes to setting a precedent for height in the core.
Pearle Hospitality, parent company of the Elora Mill, has planned six mixed-use buildings ranging in height from two to five-storeys, with retail space, residential units, hotel suites, office uses, restaurants and an artist studio on the south side of the Grand River.
There is also a four-storey parking garage with 425 parking spaces to accommodate this development.
This next phase is in addition to a soon-to-be-constructed five-storey condo building owned by the same company.
On Wednesday evening, a public meeting was held regarding zoning changes on a master plan approved by township council in 2013.
Matt Johnston, a planner with Urban Solutions, said the plan remains relatively unchanged in terms of buildings and their orientation but the updated plan requires some zoning changes.
“Everything about the plan is permitted as is, but we are asking for additional height to two buildings,” Johnston said, adding there are a number of technical ripple effects from other minor tweaks to the plan.
The two buildings in question are proposed to go up to four-storeys from their original three to create 30 to 40 attainable housing units for their staff.
Aaron Ciancone, CEO of Pearle Hospitality, said housing has become an increasingly bigger need since they first took over the Elora Mill in 2012.
More than a dozen citizen delegates spoke at the meeting, with an overarching theme of concern about what kind of impact this would have on the character of the village.
“We’re at a crucial point where I think we’re in danger of change that is going to be big,” said Jean Innes.
“We’re being asked for taller buildings to which there should just be a flat 'no.'"
Resa Lent shared a similar concern while also clarifying she is not against development and praised the Elora Mill.
She asked for a pause on the development until there’s a 3D rendering to give the public a better perspective on how this will truly look in the area.
“There will be no going back from a wrong decision here, our whole community is invested in this,” Lent said. “We want the development of our village to be right.”
Lent also drew concern that this could set a precedent for other developers who want to build high in the village core.
Donna McCaw also leaned on this point and challenged them to come up with something better or risk losing the trust of the community.
“What control do citizens have if council agrees to dramatic changes from the original plan and are more dramatic changes coming that will destroy the goodwill extended to Pearle and council?” McCaw asked.
Geoffrey Wild, a former general manager of the Elora Mill when it was first relaunched, said Pearle Hospitality had done a phenomenal job in the area including the original 2013 plan.
He said he knows the company is trustworthy as has been seen in the past.
However, he was concerned that other developers will not be as trustworthy and they'll fight for the same kind of treatment.
“We need to consider the ramification and ripple effect of allowing one person something and how this affects other developers looking to come into Centre Wellington,” Wild said.
Wild then informed the meeting that a small protest was taking place near the restaurant he owns in downtown Elora. The protesters were rallying against allowing any further height to the next phase of the Elora Mill development.
“These are the people of Elora and these are the people who don’t want to see their village destroyed by over-development,” Wild said.
After all delegates had finished, Johnston thanked the public for their comments and agreed to put together a document to address major concerns residents had with the development.
When asked by council if they would consider holding another public meeting, as many registered delegates were unable to attend or had technical difficulties, Johnston said they would be happy to work with staff to arrange this.