The Canadian community of Rothesay, New Brunswick, population 11,500, doesn’t care what color Wal-Mart comes in — they just don’t want it there. At a public hearing last week, the giant retailer offered to paint its 110,000 s.f. store green and white, but locals were not impressed. A group against Wal-Mart, called KV Care (Kennebecasis Valley Citizens Against Rezoning Encroachment) has organized opposition to the plan. There is already a Wal-Mart less than 15 minutes away in Saint John. The project submitted by Counterpoint Engineering/Wal-Mart for 19.5 acres of land would be visible from the highway. The developer has told the community this is a “Wal-Mart adapted for Rothesay.” The company says it will be the “Gateway to Rothesay.” When homeowners purchased their property, the land in the area was zoned residential. There are already two grocery stores within two minutes of this site. A 20-year Municipal Plan brought into existence in 2002 changed the concerned land designation from residential to Business Park. But the intended uses in a Business Park include a medical clinic, offices, public park, public playground, business support center, client contact center, data processing center. Wal-Mart wants to change the zoning to General Commercial which allows for retail stores. The giant retailer has applied to change the intent of the Municipal Plan to allow for this kind of large development, and to change the zoning from Business Park to General Commercial. They also need to change the General Commercial Zoning bylaw to increase the maximum permitted size of the retail, so they can build a retail store of 110,000 sq. feet. and a garden centre of 10,000 sq. feet.) Wal-Mart presented a plan to Rothesay about a year ago, in May of 2005, and the town council voted it down as not fitting in with the Municipal Plan. But Wal-Mart came back with a changed proposal, providing a larger buffer zone, brought the store forward (they had to do this anyway to put in a water retention system), said they would provide shielded lights(no light pollution to residents), landscaping, traffic studies, move the truck loading from the back of the store to one corner (but still at the back). Wal-Mart said they had listened to the residents and made changes for them — something the company had never before done. But the store size remains the same as in the original application. They formally reapplied in January of 2006. The town said they thought the proposal had changed enough to allow re-application. There was another Public Presentation by developers. Residents held a public presentation of their own shortly after the Wal-Mart Public Presentation. Mayor Bill Bishop told Councilors not to attend. Over 800 letters were sent to the town council. To counter this organizing, Wal-Mart conducted two phone surveys. A town staff report in April, 2006 presented topics and issues on: ground water, storm water, landscaping, noise, lighting, traffic. At the end of the report, town staff asked: Does the proposal meet with the overall intent of the Municipal plan? Will the proposal, if developed, provide a service to the residents of Rothesay which was not readily provided before? Will the proposal, if developed, provide an overall benefit? The 400 residents who attended the public hearing were distressed to learn that blasting for the new store could put at risk the 20 wells in the area. Evidence was also introduced at the hearing from the Community Police Officer in Saint John, that Rothesay can expect a 20-40% increase in fraud and vandalism if the Wal-Mart is built.
The Mayor of Rothesay did his best to limit the length of public comments on the proposed Wal-Mart, and he demanded that local residents remove their “No Rezone” signs with a line drawn through Mr. Smiley. “This is not a demonstration,” the Mayor told the crowd of his constituents, “This is a public hearing.” Unfortunately, it seems the town’s Mayor is not hearing the public, and is willing to throw his town’s land use plan out the window to let Wal-Mart in the door. But 400 Rothesay residents were there to stop him from doing it. No decision was made at the public hearing. For local contacts in Rothesay, contact [email protected]