By David F. Rooney
In a very surprising development, Revelstoke City Council voted 3-2 against the Revelstoke Crossing Mall proposed for the vacant site at the junction of the Trans-Canada and Highway 23 North.
Until Tuesday evening Council had been split right down the middle over this issue with Councillors Connie Brothers and Aaron Orlando opposing the mall and Linda Nixon and Gary Sulz favouring it. Mayor Mark McKee was also in favour and his vote was expected to be the tie breaker.
But the project was doomed the moment Sulz asked the crowd of almost 300 citizens gathered in the Community Centre’s MP3 Room to raise their hands if they supported the project. Perhaps 50 people raised their hands.
Then he asked how many opposed it. Instantly a forest of arms were thrust into the air.
That was the turning point and when the hearing was closed and Council voted, Sulz sided with Brothers and Orlando. But just before he did that Sulz read a letter he had written that explained his reasons. Ultimately, he said, he had to side with the community — at least that portion of it that cared enough to come out. Sulz had voted for the project after the first public hearing but had, in his own words, “been sitting on the fence” for quite some time. When he did come off the fence it was a surprise to many.
It was a dramatic end to a long and painful process. The debate over the mall and its proposed third pharmacy and supermarket ruptured many friendships and although the well-organized anti-mall forces were victorious very serious questions remain regarding development and population growth:
- How do we attract new investment?
- How do we attract more people?
- Almost everyone who wanted this project stopped claimed they were pro-development and pro-competition. If that’s truly the case how are they — how are we defining that?
Many different voices spoke out at the hearing. The majority of them were against Hall Pacific’s Revelstoke Crossing project. But there were some who spoke in favour of it and those voices deserve to be heard and what they had to should be considered by every thinking Revelstokian.
Former Councillor Gary Starling called on people to think about what development means, or should mean: “The opportunity for development brings a lot things to our community — tax revenue and new residents.” He also noted that this is not the first time Revelstoke had turned away a major developer. “We had a developer who wanted to build a hotel here and we turned him away,” he said a clear reference to Steve Platt whose hotel cum conference centre was, many people believe, strangled by red tape. It’s bitterly ironic that several people at the public hearing suggested that a hotel would.dl be perfect for the site. And Geoff Battersby went so far as to suggest during an interview on EZ Rock that perhaps the city should go back to Platt and see if he’d be willing to come back and build his hotel. It’s a nice thought but probably not realistic.
Retired railroader Kurt Pont was a strong believer in the project and what it might mean in terms of new jobs, new taxes and new investment. On his own hook he went out and found 100 local people who agreed with him. They all signed a petition he cobbled together.
“I was disappointed to say the least as to what happened last night,” he told me in an e-mail on Wednesday morning. “The other side was well organized. Tough to beat that. What I am saddened about is those that felt intimidated by this whole process and did not show up, could not show up and did not speak up. Who speaks for those people?”
That’s a good question. But despite the overwhelming number of anti-mall people at the public hearing it was clear that not all businesses objected to the mall
“I find it unfair that when we refer to the Revelstoke business community as being downtown,” said Vic Van Isle’s Lew Hendrickson. “We have to come to the realization that the town needs to grow or it’s going to die.”
And Peter Bernacki echoed that and wondered if saying “No” to the mall might act as a yellow flag. “This could scare off other developers,” he warned.
So what happens now?
Many people took a moment to say they hope Hall Pacific will not just walk away, that it will try to work with the community to develop something that will be profitable for them and desirable to the people of Revelstoke. Will they do that? More to the point can anyone propose a realistic development project that want send a shiver of fear through another segment of our business community?
Revelstoke has a reputation for finding solutions to pressing problems. Some where along the way to Tuesday night’s meeting we seemed to have forgotten how to do that. We need to have a serious discussion about business investment, development and population growth, and what they mean to our city.
The Current is pleased to present a video record of the public hearing in four parts. Please activate the YouTube player below to watch the hearing: