Supporters, opponents debate at public info meeting
Chief Staff Writer
For a short time, the meeting designed to educate local residents on a rezoning application in the Squamish business park turned into an argument between local Wal-Mart supporters and local Wal-Mart detractors.
Tiffany Duzita, the project manager from First Pro Shopping Centres, outlined the rezoning application and architect Michael Burton-Brown offered details of the building design and landscaping.
A debate over the referendum that was held in December of 2001 during the question period of the meeting.
Those who oppose the construction of a Wal-Mart in Squamish feel the referendum result that spurred Wal-Mart to begin working toward locating in Squamish was not an accurate indicator of how the community feels.
The referendum asked residents if they support a big box retail development in the business park. While more than 70 per cent of those who voted indicated support, less than 20 per cent of registered electors voted.
"Did the referendum voting take place at a senior citizens home?" one young attendee asked during the discussion.
Many were shocked by the question and three offended seniors decided to leave at that point.
Darren Kwiatkowski, a vice president with First Pro, answered most of the questions and he said that his company would not oppose a second referendum. He did not indicate that Wal-Mart would pay for such a vote.
Kwiat-kowski mentioned many times that the rezoning is not about Wal-Mart. Instead Kwiatkowski insisted that the zoning determines land use and does not determine which company can use the land.
Kwiatkowski said there should not be discrimination over which company builds on the site.Brackendale resident Al McCabe said that if there was a second referendum and Wal-Mart supported it there would be allegations that the world's largest retailer was too closely affiliated with the vote.
Kwiatkowski was asked if Wal-Mart will help promote and advertise the downtown. He said that the company does that in other places.
"Wal-Mart, they are a target," Kwiatkowski explained, "so they go the extra step. They are the number one retailer in the world."
The discussion turned to the impacts Wal-Mart will have on established local businesses.
Retail worker Monica Staff argued that Wal-Mart had a negative impact on Capilano Mall when the Woolco was converted to a Wal-Mart.
"In the Woolco days the mall flourished then Wal-Mart came and there were empty stores," Staff said.
Burton-Brown said the decline of the smaller stores at Capilano Mall had more to do with bad mall management and now that there is a new mall owner the shopping centre is seeing improvements.The consultants said mall owners like having Wal-Mart as an anchor tenant.
McCabe argued that future troubles downtown can not be attributed to Wal-Mart.
"The downtown is dying already," he said. "If the Wal-Mart comes in and the downtown dies it isn't Wal-Mart's fault because the downtown is dying."
Another issue that was raised at the meeting related to traffic around the centre. Wal-Mart is currently negotiating with the Transportation Ministry to build a new intersection on Hwy. 99 at the south end of the Wal-Mart land. Duzita said that if the intersection is permitted it will ease expected congestion at Industrial Way.
The new intersection would let traffic into the business park on a proposed new unnamed road that would pass just north of the BC Hydro property and the expanded Mountain Building Centres lumberyard.
According to information presented at the meeting by the consultants acting for Wal-Mart, if the store is built it will offer greater retail selection to local residents and establish Squamish as a regional retail centre for the Sea to Sky corridor.
The construction of the building stands to create 150 jobs and if the store goes ahead it will employ 180 people, they said.
The Wal-Mart investment is estimated at $8.6 million and the District of Squamish (DOS) has the opportunity of collecting $185,000 in development cost charges.
Once the site along Hwy. 99 is developed it is expected to generate $343,780 in annual property taxes for the DOS, according to the consultants.
The developers of the site are leaving themselves with the option of putting up two small restaurants at the northern end of the property. The buildings are to be no larger than 464.5 square metres (5,000 square feet).
The meeting attracted about 60 people. A significant number were members of the climbing community who are concerned about Wal-Mart's track record and reputation as a company that pays low wages. Mayor Ian Sutherland attended the meeting along with Coun. Ray Peters.
Now that the information meeting is out of the way, council is scheduled to give first and second reading to the proposed rezoning bylaw. That might happen sooner than later as the mayor said earlier this month that a public hearing will take place either early next month or in September.
The closest likely date for a public hearing is July 6.