Tori SuttonStaff Reporter
Reaction from Stratford's business community to last week's Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruling has been positive.
On May 18, adjudicator Colin Hefferon's ruling was released, stating that Avonwood Shopping Centre's applications did not conform to the planning policies set out in Stratford's 1993 Official Plan or the policies of Official Plan Amendment 10 (OPA 10), which directs new growth to the downtown core or west end.
Avonwood Shopping Centres - known in the past as Othello Shopping Centres, First Pro and Smart Centres - hoped to construct a 135,000-square-foot retail plaza behind Festival Marketplace mall. The development was to include Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores.
The City Centre Committee (CCC) - which supported the city's position and was represented by its own legal counsel at the hearing - said the ruling was what they had hoped for.
"We were very pleased ... they pretty much gave us what we wanted," said Gary O'Connell, CCC board chair.
Throughout the process, the CCC maintained the city did not need more development in the east end. O'Connell noted if Avonwood is interested in setting up shop here, the CCC would have no objection to them locating in the west end.
Most of all, he was pleased to see council's decision was upheld. The CCC was saddened to see the matter even end up before the OMB in the first place.
"The positive aspect of this decision is that the OMB said that we, as a city, had the right to make these determinations for ourselves," O'Connell said. "That was almost as important as the decision itself."
He wanted to make it clear that it wasn't about blocking Avonwood from constructing a Wal-Mart in Stratford, instead it was an issue of good planning.
"We certainly are not going to stand there and fight if they want to come into the west end, or anywhere else," he said.
Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce general manager Garry Lobsinger said he is happy the OMB favoured the city's position.
"We'd like Wal-Mart to come and we're open to free enterprise," he said.
"But they just have to play by the city's rules."
Several years ago, the chamber polled its members to gauge support for the big box retailer.
Lobsinger said the response was split, with about half of members in favour and the other half against, or impartial.
He notes some members are professionals who would not be affected by Wal-Mart, such as lawyers and doctors. Others, including restaurant and hotel owners, thought a big box retailer would help boost their businesses.
However, store owners were worried a Wal-Mart would would have a negative impact, he said.