The controversial Walmart-anchored shopping centre plan took another major — albeit expected —step forward Tuesday night.
City council sent Smartcentres’ $100-million 14-acre outdoor shopping mall proposal in West Cambie onto the public hearing stage with a vote of 8-1 — Coun. Harold Steves the lone dissenting voice.
The two city council voices that had yet to be heard recently on the application — Ken Johnston and Derek Dang — both voted in favour of moving the plan forward.
“I feel this is a land-use matter,” Johnston told the News, referring to the condemnation many objectors have to Walmart being the developer’s anchor tenant.
“(City council) don’t get involved in Walmart’s corporate policies, it’s not our job.
“This has been back and forth for too long and it’s time for us to listen to the folks at a public hearing; that’s what we do as councillors and we’ll make a decision after that.”
Johnston added that he doesn’t have any major issues, at this point, with the proposal on the table.
Dang, meanwhile, from what he’s heard from the public thus far, feels the public have bigger issues with Walmart than they do with the shopping centre proposal itself.
“People seem to have a real problem with (Walmart) and they will now get the chance to say what they want at the public hearing I guess,” said Dang.
“But this area has been earmarked as a big box development for a while.
“It’s healthier that it all comes out at a public hearing though and it’s really time to put this one to bed, one way or the other.”
At a planning committee meeting two weeks ago, Smartcentres, in a bid to win favour with city council, offered $238,000 towards more park enhancements within the West Cambie site and for “ecological” improvements within nearby West Cambie Park.
The move was, in part, motivated by the potential loss of ESA (environmentally sensitive area) designated land within the proposed shopping centre site.
Last month, councillors sent the application back to staff once more, with concerns over the loss of the ESA and the impact of traffic coming into Richmond from out of town to shop at the new development.
However, a revised city staff report indicated that, of the 1,800 extra peak hour weekend car trips expected, only 15 per cent of that is anticipated to come from Vancouver.
According to the report, no extra traffic is expected from the east — Queensborough has its own Walmart — and Delta to the south will soon have the new mega shopping centre on Tsawwassen First Nations land.
A number of intersection improvements in the area are also being paid for by the developer, should the plans be approved after the public hearing later this fall.
Some councillors were previously worried about the possibility of the city not being able to acquire two properties on the site — a purchase needed to build a new realigned connector road at Alexandra and Leslie roads.
It’s an acquisition, which, thus far, has eluded the developer and is now being handed to the city to complete, along with around $3.4 million of developer’s cash.
The threat of expropriating the two properties stuck firmly in several councillors’ throats when it was aired last month.
Staff, meanwhile, are sticking to the assertion that the realigned connector road, which Smartcentres is paying for, is not needed for ten years due to the developer’s extensive intersection improvements in the immediate area.
The city's West Cambie Area Plan (WCAP), which was set up seven years ago by the council of the day to guide development in the area, was reason enough last month for councillors Evelina Halsey-Brandt and Linda Barnes to vote in favour of the project proceeded to a public hearing.
The plans involve a 36,000-squaremetre development split into an east and west portion, partly on the West Cambie Natural Park.
As well as a 15,000-square-metre, three storey Walmart anchoring the eastern section, the likes of London Drugs, Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshalls and The Keg are penciled in for what would be called "Central at Garden City."
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