By David F. Rooney
City Council voted to rescind its previous approval of zoning changes that would have permitted Hall Pacific to proceed to the development permit stage of its proposed mall on the Trans-Canada.
Mayor Mark McKee said the decision to rescind Council’s approval of the zoning changes permitting a supermarket and pharmacy because he and CAO Akan Chabot learned “there may have been some violations of the public hearing process” meaning people continuing to try and pass their views along to Council members.
“We decided that it would be better… to rescind Third Reading and go back to a Public Hearing,” he told the crowd of 85 people who attended the meeting. “Since we have decided to go back to a public hearing process it seems appropriate in talking with the developer Fraser Hall to have a public information meeting at a date that is still to be determined.”
He said that meeting will likely be held in the first two weeks of November followed by the new public hearing.
Both Council and the general population are split over the desirability of the mall, which its proponents say will cost $20 million to build, create 200 new jobs and pour $500,000 in new annual taxes into the municipal coffers.
That’s an attractive proposition but the community is deeply divided. Just last week businesses across the city covered their windows with brown paper symbolizing the demise of local businesses in the face of competition by what are expected to be national chain stores.
Social media and the comments section of The Current are loaded with peoples’ views pro and con this development. RevySell has also proved to be a major forum of discussion and unlike The Stoke List, which attracts anonymous comments, the comments on RevySell are all signed by real people.
Public attendance at Council meetings where this project has been discussed has soared. Your average City Council meeting might attract one or two a mere handful — if that — of interested parties. However those meetings that have featured discussion of the mall have attracted audiences of more than 45 people.
Many members of the business community do not want this project to proceed. While they all say they support competition, they fear the inroads large national chains could make. Revelstoke is, for the most part, a community of small independently owned-and-operated businesses. No one other than the developers truly knows who the two anchor tenants will be. They have said it would be a 25,000 square-foot discount grocery store and they have said little about the pharmacy, which is expected to be 15,000 square feet. Local scuttlebutt suggests it will be a Shoppers Drug Mart but that has not been confirmed. The developers have told Council that this development is aimed primarily at people travelling along the highway but its local opponents dispute this and fear that after a kind of commercial honeymoon they’ll use predatory pricing to whip their smaller local competitors.
The anti-mall forces have waged a strong public campaign against the mall proposal through their dramatic brown-paper protest and comments in the local news media. But there is another side to this argument: There are a great many local residents who want the mall. They think more competition will lead to lower prices and more options for Revelstokians — especially those families that are living with tight budgets and can’t afford to shop out of town.
Retired railroader Kurt Pont and I have had a couple of discussions about this. It’s easy to imagine that relatively few people want the mall and I challenged him to name 10 people who are in favour of the mall. Kurt came back with a list of 45 people he encountered while cycling around town for an hour or so. I recognized many of the people who had signed his list. Like a lot of hard-working people who just want to get through life as simply and easily as possible they tend not to be the kind of people who draw attention to themselves.
Overall the online discussion about this project is respectful and healthy. There are a lot of comments on The Current and its Facebook page and it is gratifying to see this growing community discussion about the mall. But when the time comes people should attend the public information meeting and ensure that they have passed their opinions along to City Council during the public hearing — not after it is over.
Please activate the YouTube player below to watch Council’s discussion of this issue at the 2:27 mark of this 69-minute video recording. Mayor McKee also expands on the nature of the possible violation during the Questions from the Media portion of the meeting near the end of the recording.