Headline News By Kelly Egan 207 Views

Egan: Welcome to store-free Ottawa — the giant warehouse with home delivery

In the old days, retail was simple.

There was traditional Main Street with small stores, and shoppers — who lived just over yonder — travelled there to buy things. Then came malls, both handy in cold weather and positioned close to new suburbs, breaking Main Street’s monopoly.

Then came the price-killers, like Walmart, and the category killers, like Chapters. Then came big box centres, which were like giant malls but forced shoppers to walk outside after parking in disguised mazes with only magical exits.

Now comes online shopping, which is creating massive warehouses in the suburbs and threatening to lay waste to every retail trend that came before it.

Think of it. We are putting colossal buildings in our outer reaches — the places young families have moved to flee urban atrocity — near our parks and schools and what-not, then unleashing a fleet of trucks on quiet suburban streets to deliver things we don’t want to drive to the mall to fetch, the mall we put there because we didn’t want to travel to Main Street.

Does anyone have any idea what we’re doing?

In North Gower — and doesn’t that name scream power retail! — a group of residents is fighting the good fight against a proposal to possibly build a 700,000-square-foot building about 2.5 kilometres from the heart of the village, pop. 2,000.

Though no site plan has been submitted, it would sit on 120 acres, be as high as nine stories tall, with up to 63 loading bays. More people, potentially, could work at this warehouse (3,500) than live in North Gower — for an employer yet to be named.

There is, by the way, no municipal water or sewer service, no transit link and no obvious reason (except Highway 416) why an 800-metre long building should land here. So, of course, Ottawa council approved both a zoning change and an official plan amendment in December 2019.

“On nearly every aspect, it goes against the planning policies,” said Teddie Laframboise, a farmer and riding school owner who helped found the opposition Rideau Action Group.

What about the goal of the 15-minute neighbourhood, she wondered? What about preserving the village character? What about those who bought or built close by, thinking it was “country”? What about the earlier commercial plan, much debated, for the site?

Meh. So far, all about jobs, all about progress. The group is appealing the enabling bylaw changes and raising money for lawyers and planners for an August hearing before the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.