Walmart mall wins approval from Richmond City Hall

Mayor Malcolm Brodie, right, voted in favour of a new Walmart shopping mall Monday. Coun. Harold Steves, far left, voted against. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Mayor Malcolm Brodie, right, voted in favour of a new Walmart shopping mall Monday. Coun. Harold Steves, far left, voted against.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

In a 6-2 vote Monday night, Richmond council approved a SmartCentres plan to build the first Walmart store in Richmond.

Civic politicians listened to nearly three hours of debate in council chambers at Richmond City Hall before giving second and third readings to a $150-million Walmart-anchored shopping mall.

Central at Garden City will be built on vacant land northeast of the Alderbridge Way and Garden City Road intersection, and stores could be open as soon as summer of 2016. The 359,090-square-foot mall's Walmart store is expected to have the same floor area as the Queensborough location.

Coun. Bill McNulty voted yes, along with Mayor Malcolm Brodie and Couns. Linda Barnes, Evelina Halsey-Brandt, Ken Johnston and Derek Dang. McNulty, who chairs council's planning committee, said the city got what it could from SmartCentres, and that taxpayers won't be "on the hook" for anything. He pointed to Richmond's rapid growth as a driver for the mall.

"We are a very large city now with large city nuances and problems. We are also the most desirable place in British Columbia to live," he said. "Walmart is just one more of those companies that's out there that is going to help increase business and help our city grow."

But Coun. Harold Steves, who was joined by Coun. Chak Au in opposition, called the mall "the worst or second worst" development council has dealt with in a decade. Land once designated as environmentally sensitive is being lost, a "proper" buffer for neighbouring farmland is missing from the design and Walmart is too big, he said.

"In my opinion this is not a good use of the property. We sent this proposal back and I expected they would reduce the size of the big box building," he said. "Instead they increased it by 60,000 square feet."

Those who couldn't get a seat in the packed council chambers found space in a neighbouring room at city hall connected via video link.

Speakers at the public hearing were split. A dozen residents told council the mall was needed, while another dozen urged council to reject it. A few dozen more views came to council by letter—most were opposed, complaining of traffic, design and a loss of natural land and views.

Local resident Nancy Trant said the plan hasn't improved since it was first proposed in 2003, and suggested a smaller mall would better fit with the neighbouring Garden City lands.

"It seems to have gone from worse to worse," she said. "We the people of Richmond—at least some of us—don't want an ugly big box shopping centre."

Garden City lands defender Jim Wright pitched a new design for the mall that would create a wildlife corridor and preserve views from the future city park on the Garden City lands.

"It's a priceless gift from the past," he said of the existing views. "Please don't squander our legacy."

Others welcomed Walmart and other future retailers. One speaker told council he was "tired of driving to Queensborough" for better prices. Another Walmart shopper, Michelle Bron, agreed.

"I do feel it would be beneficial to myself and other Richmond residents (who won't) have to drive all the way to Queensborough," she said.

Richmond Chamber of Commerce chair Brian Williams also spoke in favour, citing positive impacts in jobs, the property tax base and the bottom line for small businesses next to Walmart.

"They say on average people will stop maybe two times to smaller places when at the big stores, so they're going to benefit," he said.

John ter Borg urged council to consider adding an "agricultural screen" to the development to create a natural buffer for neighbouring farmland. Ter Borg, a University of B.C. graduate student, noted a a green edge along Alderbridge Way could work to protect "some of the most fertile soil" in B.C.

"Richmond is known as the garden city. This predates our motto as the Island City by Nature. This is because of our culture—our agriculture. This is our legacy, whether we like it or not."

City council agreed it was worth examining, asking staff to review the possibility of a buffer along Alderbridge Way as part of the development permit process—the next step for SmartCentres before construction.

Other councillors said Monday the SmartCentres' proposal is a good land use and will make the changing area more livable.

"We've always envisioned a development of this sort in that area," said Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt. "Would I like Richmond to be what it was when I moved here in 1971? That would be really nice, but that's not going to happen."

Coun. Ken Johnston fired back at critics who accused council of not protecting green space and nature, saying they don't have to look farther than the Garden City lands—purchased by the city in 2010—to see council's commitment.

"Since I've been on council, we've done nothing but protect and respect the (Agricultural Land Reserve), our trail system and keeping Richmond green."

The vote: Central at Garden City

•In favour: Mayor Malcolm Brodie and councillors Bill McNulty, Linda Barnes, Evelina Halsey-Brandt, Ken Johnston and Derek Dang

•Opposed: Coun. Harold Steves, Chak Au

•Absent: Coun. Linda McPhail

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