Developer John Hawley's vision for the Village Centre project in Niagara-on-the-Lake is one step closer to completion as work has begun on the final phase of a major community and commercial expansion.
Heavy equipment has been on-site at the corner of Niagara Stone Road and Niven Road for several weeks, preparing the land for what eventually will be a large addition to the existing plaza.
Council approved the plans on Sept. 26.
Site plan drawings and documents from the Town of NOTL show a total of 16 buildings of various sizes, a central plaza and parking for 388 cars.
A sizable grocery store – about 14,000 square feet – will open next to where the Garrison House restaurant now sits.
A four-storey hotel, with a restaurant and other amenities, also is planned. The hotel can have up to 60 rooms.
The town also approved several small "vacation apartments" behind some of the commercial and retail areas.
No details about the apartments are provided in the town documents and neither Hawley nor a spokesperson for his company, Traditional Neighbourhood Developments Inc., were available for interviews.
'We will be issuing a press release soon and will be available at that time to discuss specifics," Hawley told The Lake Report.
A town planning report says, "The proposed central plaza (a privately owned public space) is intended to be the focal point and gathering space.".
A unique oval-shaped outdoor "assembly hall," beside the plaza, is also shown in the plans.
The assembly hall, or “Ark,” likely will be used as a venue for concerts and other events.
The project is mainly being built on land where the popular weekly summer Supper Market was held prior to the pandemic.
The Summer Market and Saturday farmers market are expected to move onto the existing grass area along Niagara Stone Road.
Part of the project will be built on land behind the existing commercial development and beside the new medical centre, which is due to open soon.
The architectural treatments are "consistent with and complementary to" the surrounding Village residential area and the three existing commercial buildings: Shoppers Drug Mart, CIBC bank and the Garrison House restaurant, the town report says.
The latest phase of the Village Centre has been in the planning for at least four years, going back to a public meeting in 2018 at which Hawley showcased his original plans for the project.
The expansion will add several amenities to help meet the needs of residents and to increase walkability.
Ardeth Staz, president of the Village Community Association, is especially excited about the grocery store.
“Everybody will like the grocery store,” she said, adding it will be convenient for Village residents to be able to walk to get their groceries.
The next nearest grocery stores are in Virgil and Old Town.
Staz joked that she would have liked to see the Village Centre up and running “about three years ago.”
She is less sure how the neighbourhood feels about the hotel, but there were few objections to it back in 2018.
In addition to the grocery store, Staz thinks the neighbourhood “would like to see kind of a coffee shop” in one of the buildings reserved for retail.
“And I'm not really thinking of Starbucks, or you know, any of the name brands,” she said.
Staz said an operation like Willow Cakes and Pastries would be good for the neighbourhood.
Hawley presented the plans for the Village Centre to council's committee of the whole on Sept. 19, requesting quick approval because he couldn’t finish off the medical building without laying some groundwork for the new commercial section.
The medical centre was about 85 per cent complete, he said at the time.
The remaining work needed to finish it includes the parking lot, stormwater and sanitation facilities.
“The urgency is we need to have the site plan approved by this committee and council in order to get the doctors in before Christmas,” he told council.
The property is divided into three separate zones but the site plan integrates the three. One piece cannot be completed without being co-ordinated with the others.
“It’s an intricate site plan,” he said. “It’s all tied together. We can’t split it out.”
Hawley started construction on the medical centre about a year ago, well ahead of the commercial expansion.
“We did that and have been doing that on a conditional permit,” he said.
The conditional permit allowed Hawley to get a jump start on the medical complex so the doctors displaced by the closing of offices in the old NOTL hospital would have a place to go sooner rather than later.
Assuming the construction of the storm water systems, parking lot and sanitation facilities are on track, the medical complex should be ready by Christmas, though Hawley has been unavailable to confirm that.
He also has not said what the estimated date is for completion for the Village Centre project.
Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report