By David F. Rooney
Mayor Mark McKee and Council have their work cut out as they grapple with zoning for the proposed Trans-Canada Highway mall. Judging by the negative tone of the majority of comments made at Tuesday’s public hearing the fact that it means more jobs and tax revenue counts for little.
A crowd of more than 45 people turned out for the hearing and 18 of them spoke their minds. All but a few were negative. Council also received 33 written submissions. Twenty-four of those were opposed to the development; eight were in favour and one was neutral.
The mall’s proponent, Fraser Hall of Vancouver-based Hall Pacific, has been seeking zoning amendments to permit development of a supermarket, a pharmacy, a health centre and businesses focused on entertainment and public gatherings.
He was well aware that his company’s proposal faced significant opposition. “If there’s something you don’t want then we don’t want to build it,” he told the mayor at the start of the hearing.
In a written report to Council, Judy Goodman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, noted that the current Highway Commercial – C4 zoning permits the development of hotels and motels; cafes, coffee shops and restaurants including drive-ins; car washes; service stations; visitor information centres; souvenir stands; local convenience stores; public transportation depots;fruit stands; and campgrounds with one dwelling for the owner-operator or caretaker. The rules also state, the Chamber report said, that the gross floor area of individual retail stores shall not exceed 250 square meters (2,691 sq.ft.).
Many of the men and women who intervened at the hearing thought that a hotel, which was the project originally proposed several years ago by then-landowner Steve Platt, would be a terrific use of the land. Platt’s original project also envisioned at least one restaurant and other retail operations.
The most common argument was the claim that building a shopping centre along the TCH would sidetrack visitors from the downtown core. Newcomer Uri Naprsteck told Council that construction of a highway strip mall in Carleton Place, a small town just west of Ottawa, destroyed the business district of that town.
Rob Lamont pointed to the way highway-style big box development devastated Chilliwack and he paraphrased consultant Robert Stanford who once said unique-looking small towns that approve strip malls find that they have just squandered their true capital.
The Chamber of Commerce invited its members, over a period of six weeks, to weekly meetings to discuss the requested bylaw amendment to include grocery, pharmacy and health & wellness to the current zoning of the proposed property, and to complete a short survey. “We had approximately 50 members attend the sessions and provide input and comments, and 36 survey responses,” Goodman told Council.
“There is a majority, approximately 70%, that are of the opinion the current property zoning is reflective of other highway commercial properties (C4) and that the use should continue to restrict new development to ‘accommodation for transient motorists to what meets the basic needs of the traveling public.’ This largely represents the view that broadening the zoning to include grocery and pharmacy anchor stores will draw away from the city core.”
Some of the intervenors noted that Revelstoke has so far managed to maintain its authentic character and that could well be eroded by developments that adhere to the kind of bland corporate building designs that you can see on the outskirts of every other town and city in the land.
Virginia Thompson said Revelstoke has an authenticity that cannot be mimicked. “When people come to Revelstoke they fall in love with it,” she said. “We’re not against development but we have to be very, very careful.”
That was a comment made time and again during the two-hour hearing. Nobody said they were opposed to investment and development. However, many did not want to see an intrusion by corporate businesses such as one of the big supermarket and pharmacy chains. Granted, Coopers, Pharmasave and Peoples belong to chains, as well, but they have been here so long that many customers regard them as being quasi-local operations.
Malcolm Bott of Universal Shoes put it quite succinctly:
“I know people want to see development but I don’t think people want another supermarket or pharmacy,” he said.
That is not to say that everyone was opposed to Hall Pacific’s proposed development. Some influential individuals said they wanted to see it go ahead.
RER owner Brett Renaud, who is also chairman of the Economic Development Commission, said Revelstoke needs to get the message out that “we’re open for business.”
After listening to some people say our community should start looking for elsewhere for a developer, Peter Bernacki asked, “Why should we go looking for a developer when we have one right here?”
Readers who have an opinion on this issue should know that while they can share their thoughts through social media or local news media, City Hall will not accept any more submissions as the public hearing is now concluded. It was very clear to Mayor McKee and City Council that community opinion is split. They will deliberate carefully and reach a decision they believe is in the best interest of the entire population. That decision might be reached by their next meeting on Tuesday, October 9.
Please click here to read all of the written submissions to Council.
A note to Current readers: I did record the entire meeting on video but am not able to post it until my computer comes back from the shop. I hope I can upload it onto my YouTube channel by Friday.