Merritton Development Update #1

Herod's Column - Friday, March 16, 2007 Updated @ 9:25:24 AM

I figured it was time for an update on the actions of Nino Donatelli.

The St. Catharines developer with a penchant for buying and fixing up old buildings always seems to have something on the go.

A conversation with Donatelli this week didn't disappoint.

He revealed the following:

He recently purchased the old Merritton library building and the CAW Local 676 building behind it.

He's involved in talks that could lead to his purchase of the dormant Union House tavern on Merritt Street.

He has his eye on the old Merritton town hall building and adjacent fire hall.

He plans to put an Italian-themed restaurant on the ground floor of the refurbished Lybster Mill building at Merritt Street and Glendale Avenue.

He's sold the two-acre Keg property on Glendale and a three-acre parcel of land adjoining it.

His plans to build a 110-unit subdivision north of Oakdale Avenue behind Hartzel Road on former Domtar steam plant lands have hit a major snag.

As you can probably gather, Donatelli thinks the future looks pretty good for old Merritton's commercial core.

It has a lot of neat older buildings that fall under the category of handyman specials. As well, the realignment of Glendale Avenue at Merritt and the soon-to-be replaced Merritt bridge over the CN tracks should dramatically improve traffic flow in the area.

Donatelli's strategy is simple. He gets in on the bottom floor of an area's revitalization. He notes he's had success in Port Dalhousie and Lewiston, N.Y.

Over the past few years, he has spent a lot of time, energy and money on Merritton's revival, most notably renovating a dilapidated old rubberworks factory into the Keg building and transforming the former Domtar property into a model for brownfield redevelopment.

Part of the old Domtar lands fronting on Glendale was sold to grocery store giant Sobeys two years ago.

It recently submitted an updated site plan to the city that calls for a 4,251 square-metre grocery store (by comparison, Zehrs at the Pen is 5,400 square metres); a three-unit attached plaza and two detached buildings.

One of the stand-alone buildings has been designated a bank on the site plan. Talk about town is that another tenant will be an LCBO store, presumably the one from Pendale Plaza.

Donatelli said it seems a little strange not owning the Keg property, considering his involvement in resurrecting it. But he said needed the money from the sale to work on his other projects, most notably the Lybster Mill.

"My biggest buzz is working on these old buildings," he said.

In addition to the restaurant at the Lybster Mill, Donatelli envisions commercial space on the ground floor and hopes to develop the top level into a hotel.

He says he has no plans for the old library building and union hall. As for the former Merritton town office and fire hall, he said he has been talking with the city about swapping those for a piece of property he owns, which would allow the municipality to build a new area fire station.

On the gloomier side of things, it appears the plan for a housing tract north of Oakdale Avenue is all but dead, a serious blow to officials and residents hoping to create more of a neighbourhood feel to the Hartzel Road corridor.

Soil contamination of the site is far worse than anyone imagined.

Donatelli says about $3 million was spent trying to remediate the site, primarily through the excavation, trucking and disposal of soil. But then it was discovered there were even more contaminants deeper in the ground.

The cleanup task appears futile, Donatelli said. His company is considering the possibility of developing the site for commercial use, which has less stringent environmental standards to meet than residential.

Paul Chapman, the city's planning director, confirmed the soil problem and agreed it appears "impractical" to pursue residential development there.

He declined further comment until he presents a report to city council.

Stay tuned.

Doug Herod's opinion column runs Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

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