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Wal-Mart: the battle begins

The store that some love to hate and some can't wait for could be the centre of debate this summer. On Wednesday (June 16) between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Wal-Mart's consultants will hold a public information meeting at the Sea to Sky Hotel.

The store that some love to hate and some can't wait for could be the centre of debate this summer.

On Wednesday (June 16) between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Wal-Mart's consultants will hold a public information meeting at the Sea to Sky Hotel. First Pro Management Inc. (FPMI) is asking residents to come and discuss the Wal-Mart proposed for the Squamish Business Park.

At 7,897 square metres (85,000 square feet), if the new store goes ahead it will become, by far, the largest retail outlet in town.

Wal-Mart agreed in March to buy 3.04 hectares (7.5 acres) within Lot 40 in the Business Park from the District of Squamish, conditional on the rezoning of the land.

The open house next week is a first step in the rezoning of the property and will give FPMI an opportunity to share details of the proposal and the rezoning application. It also gives residents an opportunity to express their concerns to FPMI and District of Squamish (DOS) staff or council members.

The current zoning of the land severely restricts the amount of area for food sales. Wal-Mart wants to sell food, but has agreed to limit its food sales for the first five years of operation. The food sales are key to the rezoning application.

According to Mayor Ian Sutherland, each member of council has to maintain an open mind going into the rezoning. Laws restrict members of council from making up their minds before all the relevant information is presented. Before voting on whether or not Wal-Mart should get the rezoning the members of council have to weigh what the huge retailer wants against the concerns of residents.

If resident concerns can't be addressed and council rejects the rezoning, the conditional sale will fail.

One of the most vocal local opponents of Wal-Mart is Darlene Pidgeon. Her main concern with Wal-Mart is the fact that it is not a Canadian store.

"Its another American corporation that is overtaking Canadian business and doesn't sell Canadian products," Pidgeon said. "It does not support Canadian business and is not local."

Wal-Mart Canada claims the stores carry Canadian products.

Pidgeon won't be swayed in her opinion that Wal-Mart will be bad for Squamish. "It is going to give more money to their base in Arkansas," she said. "It is going to affect local businesses."

Pidgeon complains that Wal-Mart is able to offer low prices because the products are made in places around the world where workers are exploited.

"The clothing is made in sweat shops in China, Mexico and South America," she claims.

On the other side of the spectrum, Joan Forry says Wal-Mart can't arrive soon enough.

"If you are a larger sized person they do have clothes that fit you at a price you can afford," Forry said. "And, they have such a selection of kids clothes, shoes and runners. I want it here for Christmas."

When Forry learned of the information meeting she said she will bring Wal-Mart supporters to the meeting.

Council will hear first and second reading of the rezoning amendment and set a public hearing date. The public hearing is the formal opportunity for residents to have their opposition or their support recorded on the record.

According to Mayor Ian Sutherland, writing in Council Corner in this week's Chief (see page 11), the public hearing could happen as soon as July 6.