COLUMN: A Modeland Road shopping centre?

We have seen the battle line, and it is Modeland Road.

The road connecting north and south Sarnia will be in the news a lot in years to come, if city planners are correct.

Modeland currently has limited access because designed as a thoroughfare to move vehicles across the city with minimal interruption.

The land east of Modeland is predominately farmland, and to the west are residential subdivisions springing up around the three schools: St. Christopher, St. Anne’s and St. Francois Xavier.

And therein lies the rub. As the number of neighbourhoods and people rise so does the interest of commercial developers eager to provide new stores and outlets.

City hall already has applications on the books for a 26,000-square-foot commercial strip on the west side of Modeland north of Michigan Avenue. That block would require three private access turns from Modeland.

Developers also plan 46,000-square-feet of commercial space south of the lights at Berger Road.

When those two anchors are in place, it would be easy to create a new and completely unanticipated commercial corridor. The city planning department already has maps drawn up showing the “incremental potential” of a two-kilometre long block of stores and businesses north of Highway 402.

Nine access roads would be needed to serve them, changing forever Modeland’s current flow-thru nature.

‘What do we want Modeland Road to be at the end? That is the fundamental question,” acting planning co-director Kevin Edwards asked city councillors at a May 26 official plan update.

What, indeed.

Would another commercial district harm the already existing ones? Sarnia’s population is not, after all, growing any larger.

What would it mean for transit routes and traffic patterns and infrastructure?

One thing is certain, staff said. The long-delayed extension of The Rapids Parkway beneath Highway 402 needs to be built in the next two years. That will relieve traffic pressure around Lambton Mall as it shoulders aside the Howard Watson Trail beneath the overpass, generating what could be an interesting debate.

Modeland Road’s future was one of the issues raised by members of the public and interested parties during Sarnia’s Official Plan consultations.

Only six groups and 15 individuals offered comment on the municipal roadmap after it was posted last September.

It’s now last call, with a final meeting to gather input slated for June 30 at city hall.

But as Mayor Mike Bradley noted, no one really cares about an Official Plan until after it has passed.

 – George Mathewson