Wal-Mart attained a Squamish text by-law amendment at a public hearing on Sept. 14 that brings the retail giants arrival in Squamish one step closer to reality.
The bylaw amendment allows Wal-Mart to build 6,410+ square feet of food retail space in an 80,000 square foot building. The previous zoning only allowed for 1,000 square feet of food retail space.
During last weeks public hearing, council heard from many citizens who were not only strongly opposed to the expanded food retail space, but very concerned as well about social and work related issues and whether Wal-Mart is right for Squamish at all. At the end of much heated discussion, Squamish Council voted 6 to 1 to allow an expanded food retail space.
It was not an easy decision, as Mayor Ian Sutherland stated: "It was very difficult. The community has strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Council had to weigh the perceived benefits for our community, against the concerns that have been raised. We also have to make sure to focus on the issue we are dealing with, which is land use."
The process began in the fall of 2002 when First Professional Management Inc. (First Pro), acting on behalf of Wal-Mart, reached a preliminary agreement with the District to locate an 80,000 square foot store in the Squamish Business Park. Last weeks amendment paves the way for planning and design dialogue with the Squamish Planning Department.
The 2002 First Pro deal called for a store with a 12,000 square feet of food retail space, expandable to 18,000 square feet after five years. Both of these limits are well beyond the 1,000 square feet of food retail specified in the zoning of the 7.5 acre Business Park lot. During the November 2002 municipal election many of the current councillors supported Wal-Mart but not the amount of food retail requested. A compromise was reached: 6,410 sq. ft. for perishable and non-perishable food items, excluding poultry, fresh meat, fish and produce. They may also have an additional space for the sale of retail confections.
In making his decision to vote for the bylaw amendment Councilor Jeff Dawson felt that, "The motivating factor for me personally to grant the small addition of food space was to allow the Wal-Mart to actually be a Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart sells food in its stores. And the Squamish Wal-Mart should compare with other Wal-Marts. The consumers deserve that as much as anyone and I have every confidence Squamish businesses will rise to the challenge and maintain the vast majority of their market share as far as food sales are concerned."
Dawson also sees other benefits.