Walmart mall can end our legacies or wow us all

‘Opponents,” said a Richmond Review headline, “worry about loss of Garden City Lands viewscape.” True, but even friends of a right-sized Walmart mall can’t fathom why a city would buy a central park jewel in a priceless setting and then let the setting be disfigured.

Keep in mind that the mall would border Alderbridge Way for much of the long block from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road. On a clear day, someone well south on the lands might spot mountain peaks above the mall, but that’s no viewscape.

In the existing forest on the north side of Alderbridge, “protected” trees have been killed despite the tree bylaw. An ESA, an “environmentally sensitive area,” became a wasteland, buried in sand. And the project plan would get rid of more ESA and wipe out every tree from Alderbridge to Alexandra Road.

Mall signs will face Alderbridge to catch our eyes. It’s like a billboard 1400 feet long and up to 57 feet high, trashing a legacy, nature’s viewscape.

As seen from the west entrance to the Garden City Lands, that viewscape is almost continuous, since the Alderbridge traffic flows behind a grassy berm.

At the Ideas Fair on the Garden City Lands this summer, people got the chance to envision the Walmart mall in the viewscape. Many were horrified.

Better news: Thanks largely to alert citizens and Councillors Chak Au, Harold Steves and Bill McNulty, council’s planning committee has sent the mall project back to staff.

Kudos! This stage, not a later one, is the time to fix what can be fixed. Skipping to a public hearing would be a copout. Council was elected to safeguard our legacies—for us and all to come.

What’s needed?

First we need to save the ESA (environmentally sensitive area) all along Alderbridge. It got slipped off the books last year, but it’s grandfathered: it already applied to the project, so it still does.

The ESA/wildlife corridor would need to be at least 20 metres wide, roughly at street level, with restoration monitored by someone like Michael Wolfe.

The narrow strip of forest will need new evergreens to fill in gaps. With care, the forest will still act as a screen that’s not too high—so it doesn’t block the mountains or get uprooted by winds.

Also, any new buildings north of the Walmart mall should respect the viewscape, not jut up into it.

To reduce flood risk, the whole mall area would be raised a metre or so. We’ll want drainage on the mall level, with walkways well back from the forest of the wildlife corridor.

The mall has reworked its design to please a big nearby developer, Polygon. Likewise, the owners might embrace the chance to conserve our legacies and wow us all, their would-be patrons. Let’s ask.

Staff may bring the Walmart mall back to council planning at 4 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Watch for updates on the Richmond’s Garden City Conservation blog, which includes a filled-out version of this column.

Jim Wright is president of the Garden City Conservation Society. His blog is at GardenCityLands.wordpress.com

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