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Sep. 24, 2020 | Thursday
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Major franchises Swiss Chalet and Harvey's could be coming to Virgil
Supplied photo.

Two major corporate fast-food franchises are knocking on NOTL’s door.

Initial discussions about a Harvey’s and Swiss Chalet in Virgil took place at an urban design committee meeting July 28.

The proposal is for the two restaurants to be built next to Grape Escape at 1627 Niagara Stone Rd.

One of the main topics of the meeting was to figure out how the restaurants could meet urban design criteria to fit the feel of Niagara-on-the-Lake, including reducing the size of signage for the drive-thru, adjusting bright, bold colours, and concerns about limited parking.

Greg Chew, a Virgil resident and commercial agent for the property with Colliers International Niagara, said the owners of the property and current tenants have tried to follow urban design guidelines to make the buildings line up with the rest of the street.

“The same ownership group has successfully redeveloped that site and beautified that property dramatically, I believe, by bringing it back to life. And I think what we have is an extension,” he said.

He said looking across the street toward another plaza, which has a Starbucks, they’re trying to “keep it in line.”

Coun. Clare Cameron, who is the council representative on the urban design committee, said discussions are still in the early stages, and town staff is examining the site plan.

She said her concern so far is about the drive-thru.

“If I have any concerns about the site, it’s the placement of that drive-thru, and the way that it might be designed,” Cameron said, adding the property is “right at the edge of the urban boundary in Virgil.”

“So if you’re entering Virgil from the northeast, and driving towards the centre of Virgil, the way that it’s been proposed now, the very first thing that you might see would be a big orange pillar on the building with the letters ‘drive thru.’ And for me, that’s not the best message that we might want to be sending to visitors and locals who are entering the centre of our community.”

She said she’d like to find a way to “draw less attention” to the drive-thru location, adding that businesses have done a lot of work to “beautify” Niagara Stone Road.

She cited some positives about the proposal, such as the owners’ plan to plant a lot of trees, which could be an “opportunity to add a little bit of green space where there isn’t a lot of green space right now on (Niagara Stone Road).

Cameron noted the issue might spark resident interest, as the McDonald’s did when it first came to town almost 20 years ago. There was vocal opposition to McDonald’s at that time.

“Now, it might feel like a distant memory for people, but it was so controversial back then. There was a compromise reached, but that McDonald’s, it’s busy, despite all the controversy. There are people in the community and people visiting the community that might appreciate that kind of a consistent, familiar brand.”

So far, she hasn’t received complaints from residents, Cameron told the meeting.

“The only comments I’ve received so far in the last week have been along the lines of ‘Oh, I love Harvey’s’ or ‘I love Swiss Chalet. I’m looking forward to going.’ “

“But I’m sure there are some other views out there,” she said.

She said she would personally like to see Niagara-on-the-Lake be a place where “smaller, independent businesses can thrive.”

“I always like going to independent places whenever we can,” she said, adding having the franchise restaurants there wouldn’t be her personal preference.

“But in planning and in development applications like this, you can’t discriminate against one type of business.”

She said from what she recalls from discussions of the previous council regarding Starbucks, “there is not a way to pick and choose the type of business.”

“If we were to disallow franchises, then there would be no Tim Hortons in NOTL — I mean, Pet-Valu is a franchise. I think we have to be careful about how much we might wish to predefine what our local business community looks like, because as I said, franchises can be owned by local people and employ local people. They might be part of a really big corporate structure. But that’s the way a lot of the businesses in our lives actually operate now,” Cameron said.

“It’s tough to think about a community that might only have exclusively independent businesses. Penner’s is an amazing business. It’s part of a larger corporate entity as well.”

She noted people obviously enjoy going to franchise restaurants. “These places only exist because there’s a demand for them.”

But “when I think of my idea of Niagara-on-the-Lake, it’s smaller places, it’s more unique places and places that have a little bit more of a truly local flavour that really help to define the best of Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

She said residents concerned about the development should send their thoughts to members of council.

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