A pivotal time?
Last week I wrote of what I believe to be a golden opportunity for the township with the acquisition of the downtown business property. Now, with Uxbridge undertaking to rezone – and expand – the retail/commercial area downtown to allow for more development once the culvert is finished, could be a pivotal time in this community’s history.
As was expounded by planning consultant Elizabeth Howson, the rezoning is designed to encourage residences along Main Street, Church Street and a couple of others to open retail or commercial businesses as well as easing the way for new development – (that includes, as I understand it, tearing buildings down and building new ones) – providing a mix of business and residential space.
I said last week that taking ownership of the Brock Street property gave council the opportunity to come up with a vision for the downtown. This rezoning could provide a few people with the vision to open unique stores or boutiques, such as those that line the main street in Unionville or in the old section of Kleinburg.
The mix of business and residential will hopefully bring a vibrancy back to the area that has been lacking for a long time.
But it won’t do any good if the new retail stores are taken over by real estate, financial services or any more pizza restaurants. The town somehow needs to encourage a wide range of retail stores that will give a pedestrian not only a reason to walk along and window shop but a reason to come downtown in the first place. Mayor Dave Barton appears to have a rather bleak outlook on the retail sector. He told me retail is becoming a thing of the past, thanks to such Internet giants as Amazon and Ali Baba. But I ask you this: how many items did you purchase today and how many of them did you purchase online? I’d bet a dollar to a donut that if you bought something today, you were in a store. Also, although I didn’t point it out to the mayor, when the Cosmos ran its questionnaire on downtown shopping a couple of years ago, readers were full of ideas about what kind of retail they’d like to see downtown. As the iconic movie line goes: “If you build it, they will come.”
It also won’t do much good if any new buildings are nothing but quick throw-ups, featureless and charmless. That kind of dollar-store architecture – if it can even be described as architecture – can suck the energy out of a whole block, or even a whole town. And, while the rezoning calls for new buildings to be no less than two storeys and no more than four storeys (with exceptions), I’d prefer to see more four storey buildings than not.
But – (there’s always a “but”) – there could be one last hurdle in the way. Ms. Howson told council on Monday night that the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) will decide what downtown land is no longer in the flood plain “once the culvert is completed.” One hopes that that little aspect of the culvert project would have been addressed when the engineering plans were being prepared. It’s hard to imagine the LSRCA throwing too big a spanner in the works, but one never knows with that outfit.
I see the next few months as being a pivotal time that could well decide Uxbridge’s future for decades to come. How council handles its ownership of the new property and how it sells Uxbridge to developers with vision and would-be entrepreneurs will be crucial in determining whether we become a thriving, bustling, energized community accessible to all income levels or remain a slowly dying little town that people simply pass through on their way to the cottage.
However, it seems to me that the residents also have a role to play if they want to see the downtown become a real downtown. We all need to pay very close attention to what council is doing on this file, or even better, let council know our thoughts on the subject. It also doesn’t hurt to become involved in your community.
Tell me, am I wrong?