Warfield residents voice opposition to converting vacant church

“Strikes me that just about everyone in this room might think it’s a good idea today, but we fear the skunk down the road.”

Buying an old village church and turning it into a mom-and-pop shop hasn’t been the peaceful venture Tina and Roger Larose hoped for.

“We’ve owned a house in Warfield for eight years now,” Tina said, addressing a roomful of Warfield residents Tuesday evening. “We just love it here and want to retire here. We want to be part of the community, have our business contained in the church, and make it nice to fit in with everything else that is here.”

The couple plans to develop the former St. Joseph’s Church into a retail site. First, they need to have the Lytton Street property, which has been vacant 15 years, rezoned into General Commercial (C2).

That means going through a process of amending the village’s bylaw – which included the public hearing prior to council’s decision on the change.

Too much traffic, no parking, and fear of the future was the general consensus among 30 residents who addressed Warfield council Tuesday night, voicing reasons why the politicians should refuse the Larose’s request.

“These are nice people and it seems like a nice business,” said one Forrest Drive resident. “That’s today. You, Mr Mayor, and members of your council have to think not just about today but the future,” he added.

“Strikes me that just about everyone in this room might think it’s a good idea today, but we fear the skunk down the road.”

At times, the open discussion veered to already existing businesses in the community, rather than focusing on the issue at hand.

“I’ve been dealing with a C2 business behind my house for about 15 years now,” said another Forrest Drive homeowner. “The Village of Warfield hasn’t held them accountable to the bylaws,” he continued. “If we zone this commercially we open ourselves up to what other commercial properties in the village look like. If we open it up and there is no bylaw enforcement then we are opening ourselves up to that disaster possibly moving further out.”

Mayor Ted Pahl pointed out that if the bylaw is amended, conditions exist on the property. For example, all commercial activity is restricted to the alley side of the building – meaning no signage or access to the future retail site would be permitted on Forrest Drive. He clarified that all commercial activity would be conducted on the portion of the property facing the alley, and all inventories would be stored inside the building during non-business hours.

“This is not going to be a junk store,” reiterated Roger Larose. “It will be a liquidation store with the majority of stuff on the newer side. Junk will not be scattered everywhere, it will be clean and a nice place to walk into.”

Tina echoed her husband’s description of the business, which she said will include a woman’s boutique, select antiques, home decor and other specialty items.

“This represents our family,” she said. “It has been our goal for 10 years, so you will see flowers and a trimmed lawn, but no junk.”

Other comments suggested an increase in vehicles on Forrest Drive could put neighbourhood children in harms way and more cars in the lot’s back alley would further congest traffic and parking.

“I am opposed to more traffic and particularly the parking,” said another resident. “Lytton Street is a main artery to parts of Warfield and very heavy with traffic and lots (of traffic) from the gas station,” he added. “And parking is premium at all times.”

Realtor Ron Allibone was on hand to support the Larose’s bid for a rezoning.

“We’ve been trying hard to work on this deal for a long time and have something done with the church,” said Allibone. “If you could go in now you would see how bad the vacancy of the building is hurting the building.”

Any construction at the site would require permits, building inspectors, and plans include paving the property for designated parking, he explained.

“An empty building is not a healthy building,” Allibone continued. “Change is hard for everybody, but we’ve got a very nice couple here than want a chance to open a good business.”

Pahl brought the meeting to a close shortly after, saying council would review the public feedback and deliver a decision during the first meeting in September.