Council approves framework for revitalization of downtown

·5 min read

At the meeting of March 2, North Grenville Council approved the framework for the new Downtown Kemptville Community Action Plan (DKCAP).

The DKCAP was created to bolster the old Community Improvement Program (CIP), which has been in place in some capacity since 2013. Over the past few years, the municipality has seen a decline in property owners and developers using the program, prompting them to look at other ways they could incentivize growth and revitalization in the downtown core. The process for creating the DKCAP started in November, 2020, and a draft plan was presented to council on January 26.

The municipality’s vision for downtown Kemptville is to develop it into a vibrant gathering point that connects residents and visitors with unique experiences and amenities. To help create this vision, the DKCAP has created several financial tools to help encourage development in the downtown. These programs are not only meant to help property owners and businesses invest in their properties, but also to increase residential density, which is key to revitalization in the downtown core. These financial tools are available for properties in the Rideau-Sanders triangle from County Road 43, running down along Prescott Street, and to a few properties past Van Buren Street. The budget for implementing these programs has been set at $175,000 for 2021, coming out of the municipality’s general reserves.

The DKCAP also includes several planning tools meant to make building in the downtown easier for developers. The implementation of a Community Planning Permit System (CPPS) should allow for more flexibility when it comes to the development of the unique properties that make up downtown Kemptville. According to the staff report, a CPPS regulates the form, scale, and character of development and allows investors to tailor unique solutions to the unique issues of a particular piece of property, and consolidates all planning and building permit applications into a single process. “For the downtown Kemptville investor, this would add clarity to the process and represent significant reduction in the time required to move the project from concept to construction,” the report says. To create a CPPS, the municipality must go through an official plan amendment. This requires public consultation, which staff is hoping to start in April.

One planning tool that did spark some discussion around the council table is the cash-in-lieu of parking bylaw. According to the staff report, parking in the downtown came up a lot in their conversations with community stakeholders. While there seems to be enough parking downtown in theory, the location of the spots do not align with the needs of businesses and visitors to the area. People who come to downtown Kemptville come for a purpose, and want parking close to their destination, which is not always an option.

The cash-in-lieu of parking bylaw would allow property owners who are unable to meet the requirements of providing adequate parking to their establishments, due to lot size or other barriers, to pay into a fund that the municipality can use to find alternative parking solutions for the downtown. This could include acquisition of land for municipal parking, improvements to existing on street parking, or improvements to existing municipally owned parking areas.

Deputy Mayor McManaman voiced his support for the cash-in-lieu parking by-law, stating that, as long as they come up with a reasonable fee, the program is of benefit to the property owners and the downtown core as a whole. “If it’s a two-unit building that you could build in the past, but now you can build three because you don’t need those parking spaces, I think you’re still ahead of the game dramatically, as long as we come in with a fair price,” he said.

Local developer and CAO of the LA Group, Gilles Brisebois, agreed that the cash-in-lieu of parking by-law is a good idea. “As long as the fee is reasonable, and that the fees are used to improve the walkways to access more parking spots,” he said. “Leaving it totally to the developers, I think it could be a train wreck, so I think it’s a good balance.”

Executive Director of the Old Town Kemptville BIA, Deron Johnston, said the BIA felt they needed more information about how the cash-in-lieu of parking bylaw is going to work. “If there is an urgent need in the eyes of the community, which I think has been voiced at various times, then how long will it take to accumulate a significant enough amount of money to implement or add some new parking in the downtown area that would be covered by that cash-in-lieu?”

Deputy Mayor McManaman noted that, if there are repairs or upgrades needed in the downtown, they wouldn’t have to wait until there is a big pot built up to move ahead. “If we need more parking, if we need to spend money on parking or fix things, that goes through budget, that’s at council’s discretion,” he said. Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, Hillary Geneau, who presented the DKCAP to council, said that further details about the cash-in-lieu of parking bylaw will be hammered out as they go through the process of implementing the CPPS.

Even with the concerns about parking, Deron says he is encouraged by the DKCAP and council’s commitment to making a significant investment in the downtown core. “The increase in the number of residential units in the downtown means more potential customers for our businesses here, and moving towards this idea that downtown becomes a community hub,” he says. “That’s what we would love.”

Hilary Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times