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'No question' Walmart ready for hearing, says Richmond's mayor
In an 8-1 vote Tuesday, city council advanced a SmartCentres bid to build a Walmart-anchored shopping mall along Alderbridge Way that would rival the size of Aberdeen Centre.
A handful of opponents urged council to reject the rezoning application because of the mall's size, appearance and that some of the land was once considered environmentally sensitive.
Having cleared the hurdle of first reading, the proposal is now scheduled to go to a public hearing Nov. 18.
"Is this good enough to go the public and (let) the public have their say? To me there's simply no question. It certainly meets that standard," said Mayor Malcolm Brodie.
The mayor noted SmartCentre's project was part of the discussion that led to the 2006 West Cambie Area Plan, which maps out a retail mall at the southwest corner of Alderbridge Way and Garden City Road. Proposed is an open-air mall with 359,090 square feet of space whose parkade rises to four storeys, but Brodie said the developer could have made it bigger under city guidelines.
"In the hands of a different applicant…they could go to a far greater height and mass and density than what is being proposed."
Richmond resident Jim Wright has closely followed SmartCentre's proposal. He told council the mall's southern appearance would "devastate" views from the Garden City lands and contrasts with the north side, where SmartCentres refined its plans at the urging of neighbouring landholder Polygon.
"Citizens of that area deserve at least as much love from the City of Richmond as Polygon," he said. "In my view the city has had systemic favouring of developers for so long that I felt a need to point it out in this crucial decision with the future of Richmond hanging in the balance."
But Coun. Linda McPhail noted the proponent has revised its landscaping plan and further refinements can still be made.
"I believe there are still some improvements that can still be accomplished, but I think that can be done at the development application process."
McPhail also said residents in the area are in need of shops and services, especially given the neighbourhood's rapid growth.
"As the West Cambie area fills out, the need for such retail services will only continue to grow," she said.
Coun. Harold Steves, however, argued the mall, particularly its main tenant Walmart, is just too big for an area with no direct transit connections. He said he supported a staff referral a decade ago, assuming the proposal would come back smaller, but "the exact opposite" happened.
"I'm more opposed to it now than I was 10 years ago," said Steves, the lone councillor to vote no.
SmartCentres has designed its proposed Richmond Walmart as a two-level 161,888-square-foot store, unlike some of its large-footprint big-box style locations. Richmond council has demanded a "compact" and "urban" design with street-fronting retail.
Community activist Carol Day urged the city to demand SmartCentres scale down its store to just 40,000 square feet—about the size of its Walmart Market stores in the United States. She said big-box stores draw shoppers outside the city and should be located "off the beaten track," not in new communities like West Cambie "that are struggling to find their special identity."
Coun. Bill McNulty, who chairs council's planning committee that oversaw numerous referrals to staff, said the mall will bring investment, employment and a boost to the city's tax base. He noted SmartCentres has offered concessions that include fully funding a connector road to serve the area.
“We've been as thorough as we can. I think taking it to the public is the right way to go.”
After hearing from delegations at the public hearing, city council is expected to vote on second and third readings of the SmartCentres rezoning bylaw. Fourth and final reading would follow at a later date.
Dubbed Central at Garden City, the mall would boast up to 50 stores, including a Walmart, London Drugs, The Keg, Bed Bath & Beyond and Marshalls.
According to SmartCentres, its development will boost the city's commercial property tax revenues by $2.5 million and create 975 new permanent jobs by mall businesses—in addition to hundreds of construction jobs.