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Squamish Wal-Mart gets green light



85,000 square foot store expected to open in early 2005

Wal-Mart is coming to Squamish.

After more than two years of planning Squamish council Tuesday paved the way for the U.S. supermarket giant to move into the Sea to Sky corridor when it approved the sale of a 7.5 acre lot in the Squamish Business Park.

Wal-Mart now has the land on which to build a $9.5 million, 85,000 square-foot store in Squamish.

The only condition on the agreement between the council and Wal-Mart is that the land be rezoned to accommodate the department store’s needs.

This announcement was expected to draw a lot of criticism from local grocers but Wal-Mart has agreed not to sell perishables such as fresh meat, fish or produce.

The council has posed a 6,410 square-foot limit on the food sales area and a 1,135 square-foot limit on the area set aside for confectionery.

Wal-Mart has also agreed not to apply for rezoning on any issue related to food sales for at least five years.

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland confirmed that as a condition of the sale the District of Squamish had Wal-Mart agree to contribute more than $125,000 to community works.

"What we’ve done is negotiated a conditional sale on the terms of contract and I believe it’s going to be good for our town," Sutherland said.

"We now need to complete this rezoning application, which means getting the public’s input on the impact it might have on the downtown.

"But I believe what Wal-Mart will do is give more shopping dollars into the community by bringing people in from places like Whistler and Pemberton and stop a lot of other people from going to Vancouver, which is really going to help us become a self contained community."

While this agreement may reflect the ability of the Squamish council to close a deal, Sutherland admitted he still had some concerns.

"We want to make sure of the effect this will have on other stores and we want this to be truly the best looking Wal-Mart in Canada; we don’t want a big grey box.

"The environmental features are also important and something that we want to see in the final product."

Mayor Sutherland said the next steps in this process would be a public hearing and then two more council meetings where the rezoning application will be read and then voted on.

"We’re obligated to go through a public process partly because we understand that there is an upside to this and a downside to it, but I’m pretty confident that we’ve paid attention to both sides over the last couple of years.

"At the same time Wal-Mart will be doing some due diligence and studies on site itself because their goal will be to have it done by January or February 2005."

As part of this deal Wal-Mart must pay for a traffic management study and contribute $100,000 to an "identifiable community amenity".

Wal-Mart will also have to contribute $25,000 for a business consultant to help promote the downtown area of Squamish, which is an interesting development because many of the people who oppose Wal-Mart are based downtown.

"We want this consultant to help promote and energize the downtown and to also work with the existing owners to help find a niche, which will make it attractive to shoppers," Sutherland said.

"But I believe with a Wal-Mart in town there will be more shopping in the community in general."

Darren Kwiatkowski from First Pro shopping centres, who has been representing Wal-Mart in Squamish, agreed there was little doubt the store would attract more shoppers to Squamish.

"There’s a lot of propaganda out there about what might happen to other stores in Squamish when Wal-Mart moves in," Kwiatkowski said.

"But Wal-Mart doesn’t really compete with other stores in cases where there is high amounts of residents leaving the community to shop, and in the case of Squamish this is unprecedented."

Kwiatkowski said that in one study the results revealed that 88 per cent of people in Squamish shopped in North Vancouver.

"What happens when you go to the Wal-Mart in North Vancouver is that you’ll spend the whole day there and you’ll go to the shoe store down the street and the sports store, so by keeping those residents shopping at home the local specialist shops are all going to benefit."