Richmond Review

Walmart mall to become 'urban village centre'

Walmart will anchor a new shopping mall in West Cambie, if a rezoning plan is approved by council. This is the view at Alderbridge Way and High Street—a new road east of Garden City Road that will intersect the development. -
Walmart will anchor a new shopping mall in West Cambie, if a rezoning plan is approved by council. This is the view at Alderbridge Way and High Street—a new road east of Garden City Road that will intersect the development.
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A new Walmart-anchored shopping mall with as much retail space as five soccer fields will become the commercial heart of a redeveloping West Cambie neighbourhood, according to city planners.

On Tuesday, city council's planning committee heard new details of an open-air shopping centre first proposed 10 years ago that spawned dramatic change in a neighbourhood largely untouched by redevelopment.

Staff are recommending the application advance to a public hearing in the new year, despite the developer's failure to buy land for a road deemed "critical" to the project.

"This proposed development is intended to become the urban village centre for the West Cambie area," said senior planner Brian Guzzi in a report tabled this week.

First Richmond North Shopping Centres Ltd., a SmartCentres company, is seeking to build a 387,692-square-foot retail centre along Alderbridge Way, at Garden City Road, in the Alexandra neighbourhood. Dubbed "Central at Garden City," the largest tenant in the 5.9-hectare (14.5 acre) development would be Walmart, while numerous other retailers would also be accommodated.

Walmart would be located at Alderbridge Way and High Street—a proposed road just east of Garden City Road. The three-storey building would have a floor space of 161,188 square feet, roughly the same footprint as the Walmart on Grandview Highway in Vancouver, and the same overall floor area as the Walmart in Queensborough, according to staff.

By contrast, the Walmart in South Surrey is 33 per cent larger and is the biggest Metro Vancouver location, at 215,000-square feet.

Planners say most of the 1,153 parking stalls will be hidden in three covered or structured parking areas. One parking lot will be covered by a publicly accessible deck offering 36,400 square feet of green space with pedestrian paths.

But the project comes with risk. The area plan—adopted in 2006 after Walmart's 2003 application triggered its rewrite—calls for a new east-west road to service the mall. The plan was to link Alexandra Road to the east with Leslie Road to the west. But city staff say SmartCentres hasn't been able to acquire the five properties needed to build it.

The solution presented yesterday is to upgrade the intersection at Garden City Road and Alderbridge Way. Dual left-turn lanes would be created in three directions and a new right-turn lane on the westbound approach would also be built.

With those upgrades, the new road could be deferred by 10 years, staff say. In the meantime, the city would collect cash from developers to help build the road. Most would come immediately from SmartCentres, but getting more money for the project would depend on the pace of other development in the immediate area.

Nonetheless, Guzzi noted in his report the road is a "critical component to this development," and there's no guarantee land will be any easier to acquire in a decade or that enough cash will even be collected.

"If the road realignment is not implemented within 10 years, the road network level of service and traffic delays would gradually deteriorate to result in extreme congestion, drivers' frustration, and potentially traffic safety issues at which time other traffic measures and improvements may have to be sought," noted Guzzi.

Coun. Bill McNulty, chair of the planning committee, said Garden City Road and Alderbridge Way is one of the city's major intersections, and access to and from the mall has to be "better than just the normal."

McNulty said the mall isn't the only project that would increase traffic in the area—the future Garden City lands could also bring more cars.

"Whatever we do is going to have a tremendous traffic impact on that whole area," he said.

As for the shopping centre's design, council's advisory design panel has concerns. It has suggested more density to reflect an urban village, more storefronts on surrounding roads and better architecture to balance the size and scale of Walmart.

Polygon, which owns property on the north side of the Walmart site, has also expressed concerns. The Vancouver-based developer wants to see a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape on the outside of the complex—to jibe with its planned apartments.

Guzzi said Polygon's concerns have been addressed with better screening of the loading area and a green-roof parking lot. He also noted the city would demand more detailed drawings from SmartCentres before a development permit is issued to ensure "a compact, vibrant, pedestrian oriented urban village centre."

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt said the a shopping centre is a good use for the land, considering the population growth in City Centre. But Halsey-Brandt, vice-chair of the planning committee, has some concerns about the design, including a "large blank wall" running parallel to Alderbridge Way and the possibility of retail signs overwhelming the area.

"What I want is to ensure that this is tasteful, that it is going to fit in with what our vision for Richmond is. This is not an American highway mall. In no way do I want to resemble that."

The uncertain future of the Alexandra-Leslie connector road presents another concern.

"I don't want the city carrying any liability on that," said Halsey-Brandt.

Homes that once occupied the land were demolished several years ago, and most of the neighbourhood's original residents have sold and moved on. Lifelong area resident Michael Wolfe said land assembly by the mall's proponents years ago led to real estate speculation, neighbourhood decay and ultimately a loss of community. He said the fire that gutted an abandoned house on Alexandra Road was the sixth such blaze in the neighbourhood.

"I know many people who've moved away from here," he said. "They enjoyed the community here, the environment, the peacefulness and the proximity to a city centre and transportation route, and we're just chalking it full of the wrong stuff."

Wolfe predicted the mall traffic chaos from the mall, and decried the loss of trees—especially since the city cancelled plans for a natural park next to Walmart. Despite the presence of protective fences, all trees on the development site—including four significant trees—would be cut down to accommodate a rise in grade for flood protection.

Wolfe called on the city to reinstate the natural park to save at least some of Alexandra's "urban forest in the city."

"Some of these trees that are still alive today on the proposed Walmart site, they've survived a pretty traumatic few years," he said. "You don't need to count them out right away.

Central at Garden City

SmartCentres has applied to rezone a 5.9-hectare (14.5-acre) site at the northeast corner of Alderbridge Way and Garden City Road

Proposed is a multi-building shopping centre with 387,692 square feet of space, with Walmart as the anchor tenant

Structures range from one to four storeys

First proposed in 2003, prompting city to redraft area plan in 2006

City council expected vote on first reading in new year; public hearing would follow


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