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Nita Lake decision felt in Squamish



Council examining Wal-Mart rezoning in wake of court ruling

The Director of Community Development in Squamish, Mick Gottardi, said Squamish council would be examining the Nita Lake Lodge decision to ensure it does not run into the same legal problems with Wal-Mart’s rezoning application in Squamish.

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland announced last week that Wal-Mart and the District of Squamish had reached a preliminary agreement on a $9.5 million, 85,000 square foot supermarket.

But just days beforehand Madam Justice Humphries turned Whistler council on its head when she ruled that it could not "sell" rezoning to the Nita Lake Lodge Corporation in exchange for amenities.

The main difference between Wal-Mart’s rezoning application in Squamish and the Nita Lake rezoning fiasco in Whistler is the location of the development.

Wal-Mart has proposed building a store in an existing business park, whereas the Nita Lake Lodge development is on land that wasn’t previously zoned for a hotel.

But there are other similarities between the two proposals and the most relevant one is that Wal-Mart will be providing a significant amount of money for amenities and community development in Squamish.

As part of the "conditional land sales agreement" Wal-Mart has agreed to pay for a traffic management study and contribute more than $120,000 to community projects.

Most of this money will go to improving "an identifiable community amenity", but Wal-Mart will also provide $25,000 for a business consultant to work with downtown merchants, which is the area many believe will suffer most if Wal-Mart opens in 2005.

Gottardi said the Nita Lake decision would now be reviewed in the business study on the Wal-Mart development.

"Nita Lake happened last week so we still have to see exactly what’s going to happen, but it’s something we’d have to examine," Gottardi said.

"But in terms of community amenities (being provided by Wal-Mart) there’s nothing happening here in addition to what most people would perceive as happening (when a supermarket is built).

"Council has set the parameters for rezoning and the intent is to consider what the potential impact of the project is, that’s why we’re doing a business study."

Gottardi said he expected the process of public consultation, the relevant studies and the process of final council approval to take six months.

"We’re just putting together a schedule now… there will be at least two council meetings in addition to the public information meetings," he said.

The first public meeting concerning Wal-Mart is expected in April and it will coincide with another crucial meeting being held by the downtown merchants.

Jane Iverson, from Nothing Finer in downtown Squamish, said the results of a survey conducted around the downtown area should be ready for presentation to the public on April 5.

Iverson said the consultants conducting the survey have been interviewing business operators and building owners in the downtown area to determine if there is a desire to revitalize the downtown area.

"I suppose this survey’s going to find if there is a willingness to reconstruct (the downtown) and if there is then how can we do this," Iverson said.

"I want a positive approach because I want to be able to see some results."

Iverson said the right people in council were in place to tackle the issues involved with the downtown area.

"The will is here (to fix the downtown) and it’s not lost on the council because we’ve been having a lot of support.

"This present council inherited the Wal-Mart fiasco so in many ways it puts them in a difficult position.

"But the other thing to remember is that the Olympics is providing opportunities that will never again be available to us.

"I think this is about finding legacies for this area."