Citizens speak out against Wal-Mart at public...
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Feb 26, 2007  |  Vote 0    0

Citizens speak out against Wal-Mart at public meeting

Stratford Gazette

As citizens lined up at the microphone at Monday night's public meeting, not many were offering words of support for a proposed big-box development.

Dozens of citizens came out to the meeting, discussing a possible zone change and Official Plan Amendment to allow a Wal-Mart store, and other retail, to locate in the city's east end.

Chairs in the City Hall Auditorium quickly filled, with spectators overflowing into seats on the balcony.

Karen Haslam, former provincial NDP MPP and Stratford mayor, said allowing Wal-Mart into the city was not a good idea.

"Here we have a corporation coming into our community and making changes to suit their needs," said Haslam. "That pisses me off. That really pisses me off."

She said she didn't want to see Stratford evolve into a city like Kitchener.

"People don't like change sometimes but change comes whether we like it or not," she said. "There's nothing wrong with change as long as we handle it in a Stratford way."

Perennial Green Party candidate John Cowling said council needs to consider the future, and changes that could come with it, when making its decision.

Noting oil has hit an all-time high at nearly $60 a barrel, Cowling said our dependence on automobiles and plastics needs to be considered.

"The Wal-Mart business model presupposes cheap energy and cheap oil," said Cowling. "The size of the parking lot is bigger than the size of the store. They're expecting us to all arrive in our cars. I don't know how viable Wal-Mart's business model is."

Former city councillor Roger Black said it will be local grocery stores and department stores which suffer the most, not the downtown core.

"There are only X amount of expendable dollars in the community each week," said Black, predicting Canadian Tire, Home Hardware, TSC, Sears, Zellers, IGA, Food Basics, along with independent paint and clothing stores, will be the hardest hit.

"When a new retailer comes into the city, they will always have studies that show their business will have no impact. How many existing jobs will be lost in the retail sector?

"They will be raping and pillaging the retail fabric of another community and sending the profits back home."

Joining the line of former and current politicians, Perth East deputy Mayor Ian Forrest said the proposal highlights bad planning.

"What this does is landlock the eastern portion of this property," said Forrest, referring to Wal-Mart's plans for the land behind Festival Marketplace.

"That is not adequate planning. If it goes through as it stands, you force us into a position of being opposed to this development."

Marcia Matsui, speaking on behalf of the city centre committee, urged council to support Official Plan Amendment 10.

"We think this is important to the health of the downtown in every respect," said Matsui.

She added the store need not be larger than 90,000 square feet. She also provided an example where a Wal-Mart was built in a city's downtown in Vermont.

Bo Forbes, speaking on behalf of the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce, said a survey found 51.1 per cent of its membership believes a Wal-Mart store would positively affect their business, while the rest - nearly two-thirds of which are in the retail sector - felt it would result in negative effects.

He too said the size of the store needed to be addressed.

"The square foot per capita is the highest in the area," he said.

Architect Michael Wilson said an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing is inevitable in the case.

"I hope the citizens and council are on the same side at the OMB," said Wilson.

Matthew Murphy, a local musician, said the development could have a negative impact on the watershed, affecting the Avon and Thames rivers, along with Lake St. Clair.

An anti-Wal-Mart group, Stratford First, also reiterated its stance on the issue, and said a petition opposing the development has collected 6,054 signatures. Representative Steven Landers said 2,500 postcards, to be mailed to City Hall, have also been filled in.

Other speakers included visitors from Guelph, a city that recently lost their 10-year battle to keep Wal-Mart out.

Though most people speaking against the development were received with raucous applause, one Wal-Mart supporter was greeted with sparse applause from the handful of pro-Wal-Mart citizens in the audience.

"I thank heavens Wal-Mart has made an offer," said Cliff Morgan.

He compared the anti-Wal-Mart movement to past fights against mall development and noted the evening's meeting was almost a week to the day the first mall in Stratford opened in 1967.

"I'm saying the downtown has done very well," said Morgan, who worked for the Towers chain for 26 years. "There is no need to fear Wal-Mart in regards to downtown."

The proposal, put forth by Othello Shopping Centres, is currently being reviewed by the city's peer review team.

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