Port Dover neighbourhood leery of disruptions from investors’ business plan

A couple that recently moved to Port Dover from Toronto had this home at 323 St. George St. in Port Dover rezoned as a rooming house on Nov. 12. Their application for ancillary retailing in a detached garage has been deferred. Monte Sonnenberg/Delhi News Record

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Investors who recently moved to Port Dover from Toronto are surprised and disappointed by the response they have received to a business proposal in a residential district on St. George Street.

Helene Larochelle and Michael Nimchuk succeeded in having the two-storey home at 323 St. George Street rezoned as a rooming house on Nov. 12.

But Norfolk council deferred their bid to have a detached garage rezoned for ancillary retailing.

The reason is an interim-control bylaw imposed earlier this year barring the allocation of new water and sewage capacity in Port Dover until further notice. The interim bylaw was imposed, in part, due to capacity concerns at the water-treatment plant in Port Dover.

Larochelle and Nimchuk can live with the outcome but look forward to pursuing the retail angle once infrastructure issues in Port Dover are addressed.

“The inn is 100 per cent our focus,” Larochelle said. “We look to maximize the potential of our properties. But primarily we’re interested in bringing 100 per cent luxury accommodation to this location. I guess you can’t please everyone all the time.”

Larochelle and Nimchuk developed inn-style properties in Toronto before selling their holdings and moving to Port Dover last year. Larochelle is hurt that her vision for the large home has received a cold reception in some quarters.

The rooming house designation was necessary because the couple intend to provide overnight accommodations for a maximum of four clients. Bed-and-breakfasts are capped at three. As well, B-and-B owners are required to stay on their properties overnight.

Larochelle and Nimchuk are surprised by the push-back they have received on their bid to pay cash-in-lieu to address a deficiency of two parking spaces.

The house in question is located across the street from the former Giant Tiger parking lot. The residential neighbourhood is sedate but nearly devoid of public parking spaces in summer when visitors throng to the Walker Street beach nearby.

Norfolk council and planning staff fielded numerous concerns about the possibility of this application aggravating the parking shortage downtown.

“We hear customer’s concerns every single day regarding Port Dover’s lack of parking,” business owner Debbie O’Dwyer said in a recent email to planning staff.

“We have regular customers that cannot attend our store because they are not able to park blocks away and walk to our store. We see families with their beach supplies parking in front of our store (near the corner of Chapman Street and Main) and heading to the beach for the day because there is no parking at the beach.”

Larochelle has approached institutional stakeholders in the neighbourhood with an offer to lease parking. She says they appear to have circled the wagons.

“We haven’t even got to a price negotiation once,” Larochelle told council.

“Every town thinks it has a massive parking problem. As a town develops, you will eventually have to accept that you will have to walk more than a block to get where you want to go.”

Larochelle and Nimchuk were especially disappointed with a recent community meeting where residents suggested they were setting the stage for a “flop house” and “a drug den.” Someone asked if the ancillary retailing might involve adult sex toys while others speculated it could open as a cannabis shop.

Larochelle said nothing of the sort is planned. She did allow that anyone purchasing the property once she is finished with it won’t be constrained by the couple’s business plan.

“That’s when an owner might consider putting in some of these other questionable enterprises,” said Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele.

Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin said the couple should not take the feedback personally.

“It is really uncharted territory for Port Dover,” Martin said. “We don’t really have anything to benchmark it or compare it to.”

Larochelle and Nimchuk have paid Norfolk’s planning department nearly $8,300 to bring their application this far. In approving the rooming house, council agreed their application for ancillary retailing should remain current but in abeyance. Discussion will resume once the interim-control bylaw is lifted or expires.

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