Ladysmith council looks to maintain town’s character as it updates Zoning Bylaw

As the Town of Ladysmith's Zoning Bylaw update moves forward, council says no to big box stores and drive-thrus, yes to coach houses.

Maintaining Ladysmith’s form and character seems to be an important backdrop to making decisions regarding coach houses, big box stores and drive-thru service, as the Town of Ladysmith updates its Zoning Bylaw.

Brent Elliott, project consultant for the Town of Ladysmith Zoning Bylaw Update, made a presentation to council Monday, Dec. 16, asking for council direction regarding these three issues that have come up through the Zoning Bylaw review, which has included discussions with council, a stakeholder working group and the community at large during an open house in late November.

Elliott told council that the issues of coach houses, how to treat big box stores and how to treat drive-thrus stood out the most.

“We’ve identified those because consistent in all three conversations [with council, stakeholders and the public], there was some very good input but not necessarily consistent messages,” he said.

Coach houses

Elliott says the topic of coach houses elicited the most fulsome discussion.

“In general, council supported the balanced and phased approach, finding ways we can encourage alternative or new kinds of housing changes while at the same time looking to preserve the character that Ladysmith is known for,” he said. “We also talked about wanting to walk before we run.  We talked about introducing them in kind of a staged fashion.”

Elliott says there was a lot of discussion around moving away from using lanes as criteria for accommodating a coach house and instead look at lot size, so they aren’t limited to downtown. Discussion also focused on the proposed floor area limit of 60 square metres, which was generally considered a good size.

Following Elliott’s recommendations, council voted that the Zoning Bylaw update include amendments to permit coach houses in phases, beginning in and around the downtown, with a minimum parcel size of 668 square metres where a lane exists or 780 square metres where a lane does not exist. The bylaw update will also permit coach houses on larger rural parcels, and it will state that the maximum floor space of coach houses is 60 square metres.

Big box stores

Regulating big box stores was another big issue, with big box being defined as a single retail store with gross floor area exceeding 22,497 square feet.

Elliott says questions were raised about the possible loss of economic investment from a town-wide prohibition, but when they looked at the Town’s Community Vision, Sustainability Action Plan and Official Community Plan, what stood out was a focus on buying local, investing in local businesses, focusing future growth in the downtown and trying to minimize highway-oriented development.

As a result,  his recommendation was to maintain the proposed town-wide restriction on big box stores, which council voted to implement as part of the Zoning Bylaw update.

“The size threshold, 22,500 square feet, is fairly accurate, and we can work on language that can exempt the existing grocery stores and accommodate what’s in the town today, but moving forward, larger-format retail operations like that would be prohibited in the town,” said Elliott.

Drive-thrus

Elliott told council they identified a similar messaging toward drive-thrus as big box stores.

He says there was support in principle for a town-wide prohibition, but there was also concern about losing out on some potential economic investment.

“I think from a character point of view, this came up more so than the big box stores; there was a good sense that prohibiting drive-thrus is supportive of the town’s interest to maintain that character aesthetic, and in particular, it would simplify land-use decisions made in the downtown,” he said.

Council voted that the Zoning Bylaw update include amendments to implement a town-wide prohibition on new drive-thru operations of all types.

“The Town already has a prohibition on drive-thru restaurants; this would prohibit other drive-thru businesses, such as drive-thru banking,” noted Elliott.

Looking forward, Elliott explained to council that he and staff will take all this information and work on revising the draft Zoning Bylaw and will then bring it back to council for further discussion.