Wal-Mart expanding? In Guelph? Yes.

The following article appeared in the September 16 edition of the Guelph Mercury:

Councillors vote 10-2 in favour of allowing a detailed expansion plan for Wal-Mart that includes a grocery store component, other retail

Wal-Mart is getting bigger.

Council voted 10-2 in favour of an application last night to add a grocery store to Wal-Mart, along with a collection of new stores.

In July, councillors rejected the application. At the time, Mayor Karen Farbridge said there is no planning policy that allows council to oppose the application.

Last night, many councillors followed that advice.

“At the risk of a potential, expensive OMB hearing, I will support this application,” Councillor June Hofland said.

“I’m ideologically opposed, but after looking at great length at our commercial policies, I will support the application,” Coun. Lise Burcher said.

But Burcher called those policies “fundamentally flawed and not where we want to go as a community.”

Coun. Christine Billings disagreed.

“There was no legitimate reason to reject the application in July, and there’s no significant difference now,” she said.

“I was surprised at the turnaround,” she said after the meeting.

The application approved yesterday was more detailed than the one that came to council in July. It explained further the environmental aspects of the new development, and on how 6&7 Developments Ltd. would help Woodlawn Cemetery.

The city negotiated with 6&7 until just before the meeting, said Scott Hannah, the city’s manager of development and parks planning. The developer agreed to increase its contribution to the cemetery to $41,300, mostly to replace trees removed along Woodlawn when the road was expanded.

The city and 6&7 also came to an agreement that satisfied concerns raised by the Guelph Curling Club, which last week suggested it could appeal the decision if the application were approved. The club is planning to sell its property, adjacent to Wal-Mart, and move elsewhere. But city planning policies put a cap on the amount of retail space at Woodlawn and Woolwich, and the curling club argued that if the application were approved, too much of that allocation would go to 6&7.

In the end, they agreed 6&7 would use 10,000 square feet less of the retail allocation. The new Wal-Mart will be 190,000 square feet instead of 200,000, and the extra 10,000 square feet will be used for commercial space that doesn’t qualify as retail — things like restaurants or opticians.

“The curling club is extremely pleased,” Robin-Lee Norris, a lawyer for the club, told councillors yesterday.

Council also heard from someone calling himself a voice for the silent majority.

Thomas Storr asked council to approve the application, and suggested opposing Wal-Mart has cost the city $3 million.

“Now my taxes are going to help the downtown, and Wal-Mart is here and I’m $3 million lighter in my jeans,” he said.

Only Ward 1 councillors Bob Bell and Kathleen Farrelly voted against the application, saying commercial development is needed in the east end, where there is none, before existing commercial spaces are expanded.

“By approving this application, we create a have and a have-not area,” Bell said.

Farrelly said she’d talked to Loblaw — the company that owns much of the commercial space in the east end — yesterday, and they confirmed the Woodlawn and Woolwich expansion was “causing a rethinking of the plan for the east end.”

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