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Wal-Mart moves ahead

Wal-Mart is one key step closer to locating a store in Squamish. The District of Squamish has a conditional agreement to sell a large parcel of highway-side property to the world's largest retailer, Mayor Ian Sutherland announced Tuesday (March 16).

Wal-Mart is one key step closer to locating a store in Squamish.

The District of Squamish has a conditional agreement to sell a large parcel of highway-side property to the world's largest retailer, Mayor Ian Sutherland announced Tuesday (March 16).

Technically, the retailer's entry into Squamish is not final; however, the announcement indicates a level of support for the world's largest retailer from Squamish Council.

If the deal goes through, Wal-Mart Canada will buy 3.04 hectare (7.5 acres) of Lot 40 in the Squamish Business Park from the district for an as-yet undisclosed price.

"The purchase price is based on the appraised value of the land," Sutherland said. An appraisal was recently done for the district and that information is not public. The mayor said he won't share that figure until after the deal is completed because if the deal with Mal-Mart breaks down the district might have trouble getting the price it wants for the property from a separate purchaser in the future.

Sutherland added that information around the price of the land is confidential between the two sides involved.

The deal hinges on the land being rezoned, which will require a public hearing and a vote of council.

The mayor met with Wal-Mart representatives prior to the announcement this week.

"We had a very positive meeting," Sutherland said. "At the time I told them that we would be holding them to a very high standard of development. They accepted that."

According to the news release issued by the district, the 7,897 square metre (85,000 square foot) store will be an environmentally-responsible, high-quality development. Reading from the news release, Sutherland said the store will be the best or among the best Wal-Marts in Canada.

The land deal is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

"Our planning department will work with Wal-Mart on the schedule," said Sutherland. "It could be a bit faster or a bit slower."

The proposed deal includes a contribution of $100,000 to be used by the district for an identifiable community amenity. According to Sutherland, how that $100,000 will be used is up for discussion.

"It is pretty much ours to decide what to do with," the mayor said. "They [Wal-Mart] will have some input into it."

Along with the community amenity, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $25,000 for a business consultant to work with downtown merchants to prepare for the arrival of Wal-Mart.

Food sales at the Wal-Mart will be restricted for at least the first five years the store operates. Wal-Mart agreed not to sell perishable foods like fresh meat, poultry, fish or produce.

The sale puts another retail development into motion. Parallax Development Corp. of Toronto signed a conditional sale agreement to buy 4.05 hectares (10 acres) directly north of Wal-Mart's land to build a factory outlet mall.

Mayor Sutherland confirmed at the time of the announcement that if the district and Wal-Mart did not reach an agreement, then Parallax's factory outlet plans would move to the property Wal-Mart was interested in buying.

Sean Languedoc, the local spokesperson for Parallax, said the news won't have a significant impact on his company's project.

"It hasn't had a bearing on the tenants expected to come to our project," Languedoc said. "It will increase traffic to Squamish which will be a positive impact for everyone."

Languedoc and Parallax are pressing ahead with their plans and Languedoc said the timeline for the factory outlet mall is not impacted by Wal-Mart.

"One of the key elements is an intersection off of Hwy. 99," Languedoc said. He added that his company is currently in discussions with the Ministry of Transportation.

If all goes to plan, the Wal-Mart may be completed early in 2005.

Work on the site began last week with a crew creating some rough roads on Lot 40 for geotechnical studies on the lot.

Land clearing is expected to begin soon as Ministry of Water, Air and Land Protection regulations restrict land clearing between April 1 and Aug. 1 to minimize the disturbance of birds during their nesting period.

Because of the nesting protection guidelines Wal-Mart had to choose between clearing now or further delaying its plans until late summer.

The deal between Wal-Mart and the district hinges on a rezoning of Lot 40. If council does not grant the rezoning the deal will collapse.

The rezoning process will begin when council passes first and second reading of a rezoning bylaw that sets out what Wal-Mart can build and do on Lot 40.

Before third reading, council will hold a public hearing to allow residents to share their concerns or offer support for the development. After getting a sense for how the community feels about the development, council has two options. Council can pass third reading and adopt the bylaw or council can vote to reject the rezoning at third reading and ultimately kill the deal by refusing to change the zoning.

Squamish residents voted 72 per cent in favour of a single-tenant "big box" retail operator - Wal-Mart was not specifically named in the question - in the Squamish Business Park in a referendum in December 2001.

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