Wal-Mart is making a major superstore push in Canada, including the community of Guelph, Ontario, where the retailer had to battle for more than ten years to build a discount store. Now that Wal-Mart has landed in Guelph, they want to make a bad idea even worse. On December 17, 2001, the Guelph City Council reversed a previous council vote which had supported two big box proposals. One was for a development anchored by a 105,000-sq. ft. Wal-Mart; the other was for a 120,000-sq.ft Zellers (a Canadian junior discount store chain which has been battling Wal-Mart head to head since the latter arrived in Canada in 1994. Both proposals required zoning changes. The 2001 rejection was part of an ongoing saga that began in 1995 when Wal-Mart first set its sights on Guelph, a city of 100,000. A concerted citizen effort resulted in a council decision in 1997 to turn down both big box proposals. That decision was appealed to the court for council decisions in Ontario, called the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Through various legal manuevers, the developer got the matter sent back to the local council in 1999 for another decision. This time, a new council approved both, ignoring dozens of citizens who again spoke in opposition to the proposals. After more than two years of legal wrangling about Wal-Mart sales figures, the proposals were sent back again for another local council review. Again the citizens turned out in droves and this time they were successful in persuading the new council to revert to its original position in opposition to both proposals. But the Wal-Mart discount store was eventually approved by city officials, and in February of 2006 a broad-based Multi-Faith Initiative was formed to fight Wal-Mart’s approved location next to the Ignatius Jesuit Center, a spiritual retreat. However, that group eventually reached an out-of-court settlement with the developer when they negotiated visual and noise mitigation of the project through the use of berms and extensive plantings and landscape alterations. “Based on the best information available,” stated Father James Profit, the Center’s Spiritual Director, “it’s our understanding that these measures will result in a situation where the users of our Center will not be able to see any development or hear any additional noise that might otherwise be generated by development at this location, now or in the future… including numerous mature cedar trees and the establishment of a “Living Wall,” created from growing willows. As part of the settlement… noise levels experienced by those using the Centre will not increase. “The fact that significant litigation around these issues has been avoided clearly benefits all of the parties, and everyone involved in the settlement deserves to be commended.” But this week, according to the Waterloo Record, Wal-Mart now wants to expand its Guelph store into a supercenter one-third larger, and surround itself with a large commercial development next to the spiritual retreat. The “Living Wall” is getting bigger. The Guelph city council has to vote to accept the plan, and the public will have another chance to speak out against the project.
More than 12,000 people signed the first anti-Wal-Mart proposal. The developer, 6 & 7 Developments Limited, needs the Guelph city council to approve the addition of a grocery store to the existing Wal-Mart. The developer also plans to add a mixed use commercial space on the corner lot. This requires a zoning amendment in Guelph, and the City’s staff support the idea. Ben Bennett, who fought the first Wal-Mart store for more than a decade, is warning that the expanded store will only make traffic problems worse. Bennett’s battle against the Guelph Wal-Mart was featured in the 2007 movie ‘Wal-Mart Nation,’ which was filmed in the U.S. and Canada. Readers are urged to contact Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge at [email protected] with this message: “Dear Mayor Farbridge, When I searched your blog by the words ‘Wal-Mart,’ I got this message: ‘Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.’ There are thousands of Guelph residents who probably wish that were true. Your city spent more than ten years bitterly divided over the need for a store the size of Wal-Mart — and now the retailer wants to get bigger. But the larger store adds no economic value to Guelph — it’s just another company selling bananas. All it will do is put other existing grocers out of business, or cut into local merchants’ sales. This will not add jobs or revenue to Guelph. You said in your State of the City speech that the city had a ‘local growth strategy’ with ‘Urban design guidelines… to ensure that, as we grow, we maintain compatibility with existing neighbourhoods.’ You warned that ‘if we grow the same way we have for the past 50 years, we will experience longer commuting times, higher auto emissions, lower air quality, and the depletion of large amounts of farmland and land that protects our water.’ That pretty much sums up what a Wal-Mart supercenter means for Guelph. How does an expanded Wal-Mart fit into your growth management plan? How does it enhance your goal of revitalizing your downtown? If Guelph’s vision statement is really ‘to be the city that makes a difference,’ then you need to think differently. You need to think outside the box, and not let a big Wal-Mart grow even bigger. It’s not how big Guelph grows — but how you grow big.”