SUDBURY -- Greater Sudbury is in the process of changing planning rules to allow local shopping malls to create residential units.

As first reported by CTV News in October, the owners of the Hanmer Valley Shopping Mall are interested in adding residential units, in part geared to seniors who would be able to easily access services, use food courts and other amenities for social gatherings.

Under the changes, medium- and high-density residential units would be permitted along with retirement homes and long-term care facilities.

Planning laws need to be amended before that can happen. The changes to be dealt with at Monday night's planning meeting include changing the rules to allow up to 25 per cent of the mall's ground floor to be used for residential units. However, those restrictions wouldn't apply to multi-storey apartment units, as long as the ground floor kept to the 25 per cent limit.

Parking requirements for malls would also be reduced to accommodate the residential units. Because malls have ready access to transit and since residents have access to services in the mall, parking requirements wouldn't be as high as in other residential buildings.

The driving force behind the change is the fact so many people in Canada – and the world – shop online. And the numbers are growing.

According to Statistics Canada, the trend to online sales was already growing before COVID-19 hit. While overall retail sales declined by 17.9 per cent between February and May this year, online sales have soared by 99.3 per cent since the pandemic began.

"Retail e-commerce sales reached a record $3.9 billion in May, a 2.3 per cent increase over April and 99.3 per cent increase over February ($2 billion)," StatsCan said in a study dated July 24. "Year over year, e-commerce sales more than doubled, with a 110.8 per cent increase compared with May 2019."

While COVID-19 accelerated the trend, StatsCan said the popularity of online shopping will continue and has significant implications for traditional retail.

"The degree to which Canadians continue to choose e-commerce purchasing options or return to traditional purchasing methods has the potential to change the structure of the retail trade industry in Canada," StatsCan said. "Clearly, the retail landscape will evolve."