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No express lane for Walmart file
Civic politicians began taking sides this week on a Walmart-anchored shopping mall proposed for Richmond, but left potential shoppers no closer to the aisles of the world’s largest retailer.
On Tuesday city council’s planning committee considered the latest plan from SmartCentres to build a 359,090-square-foot mall at the northeast corner of Alderbridge Way and Garden City Road.
After nearly three hours of debate, the committee referred the 152-page report back to city staff for more information. Committee chair Coun. Bill McNulty said the file could return for debate in as little as two weeks.
Any decision would still have to pass the test of a full council vote and a public hearing.
Although SmartCentre’s decision to pay for a connector road was a “significant improvement” from an application nine months ago, McNulty said he wasn’t ready to cast a vote.
More information on anticipated traffic is needed, he said, noting his concern that not all road improvements would be in place before opening day.
“I believe (the connector road) is needed now. There’s already enough development in there,” he said. “That corner is the busiest section in all of Richmond.”
McNulty said the mall, Central at Garden City, would draw customers from Delta and Vancouver, and he doesn’t want Richmond to “inherit a problem that we may not be able to solve.”
The mall would boast up to 50 stores and a Walmart similar in size to a location in Queensborough.
SmartCentres is offering to pay for a planned connector road linking Leslie and Alexandra roads—and would acquire all but two properties to accommodate it. The firm is offering the city $3.45 million to buy the remaining land, but McNulty questioned whether it would be enough.
“Somehow somebody gave the impression that the city could get those lands easier than Walmart. I disagree. It is not the city’s responsibility to get lands for a developer,” he said. “We need to make sure that infrastructure is in there now or the taxpayers are going to end up paying for it.”
Coun. Chak Au, one of four other committee members, had other concerns. He said compared to the city’s area plan, the proposal leaves the city a deficit in parkland and strips some land of its environmentally sensitive area designation.
“We’re giving the wrong signal to developers and we betray the residents of Richmond,” he said. “We’ll be in big trouble if we don’t follow the policies and strategies and principles that we have laid down.”
According to the staff report, 1.04-hectares (2.57-acres) of the site is designated environmentally sensitive. But under the development plan, it’s reduced to 0.64 hectares (1.57 acres). The report notes some of the land has been “compromised” by human disturbance, invasive species and council’s recent decision to scrap a plan for a natural park next door.
But Au isn’t happy with a plan to replace an environmentally sensitive area with a rooftop green space.
“If we have some land in the (environmentally sensitive) designation, we should take steps to protect it. If it’s being ruined or compromised, we should try to restore it. But instead, they used that as an excuse to take it away,” he said. “To me, this is a foul logic.”
But Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt supports the plan, saying SmartCentres would provide the city adequate compensation for lost parkland and more than enough money to purchase properties needed for the road.
“I think SmartCentres has come around and given us almost everything we want,” she said. “To me it’s a pretty good plan. There’s no perfection in life. There’s no perfection in planning. I think this meets what our objective is.”
A commercial complex is envisioned in the area plan, Halsey-Brandt noted, adding it will provide the neighbourhood needed shops and services—along with jobs.
And with Richmond’s population expected to grow by 80,000 people in 30 years, according to the Official Community Plan, Halsey-Brandt said those new residents will need services the mall could afford.
“The stuff we have now on No. 3 Road is barely meeting the need that’s already here, never mind the growing need.”