Good fences don’t really make good neighbors, they just defuse the tension. This is certainly true in Guelph, Ontario, where a coalition of religious groups had been fighting Wal-Mart, but this week announced they had reached a ‘settlement.’ Unfortunately, the settlement is predicated on the notion that large stores like Wal-Mart can be hidden from surrounding peaceful uses — a theory the faith groups may learn the hard way doesn’t work. Here are excerpts from the group’s press release: “In February of 2006 a broad-based Multi-Faith Initiative comprised of religious leaders and practitioners from many different world religions… was formed to support a Charter application brought by Guelph resident William Hulet. The application sought to quash a new by-law allowing commercial construction near a world-renowned religious centre and two historic cemeteries. Today the Multi-Faith Initiative announced that settlements have been reached with the Corporation of the City of Guelph and 6&7 Developments Limited. The settlements fully resolve the current Charter of Rights application before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. They also resolve the appeal by the Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Guelph to the Ontario Municipal Board regarding a proposed “Phase 2” expansion at the same site. The settlements feature a number of highlights, including further visual and noise mitigation through the use of berms and extensive plantings and landscape alterations. “Based on the best information available,” states Father James Profit the Centre??s Spiritual Director, “it’s our understanding that these measures will result in a situation where the users of our Centre
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. From our point of view this sends a clear indication of what we believe to be the appropriate standard for development in this area… The latest proposal will result in significant plantings along the boundary… 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.”
Now you know why they are called “faith-based groups,” because when they go outside at night to look at the evening sky, all they will see is Wal-Mart lights. Once the store is built, neighbors will be hard-pressed to make it unseen and unheard.
The Ignatius Jesuit Centre has 600 acres of farmland, gardens, wetland, woodlands and walking trails. The center says it is “a world-renown retreat.” Now when visitors come to look for the Center, local residents can tell them ‘it’s just beyond the Wal-Mart.” There is no reason why Wal-Mart couldn’t have withdraw from this project, instead of forcing the neighbors to threaten them in court, and then leaving neighbors in the hands of “experts” to measure sound and sight issues. The fact is, Wal-Mart makes no sense placed next to a quiet, meditative retreat. There are no doubt plenty of commercial areas to locate in, but in this instance, the neighbors may find that their faith in the experts will mean little once the noise and light pollution invades their tranquil world. Having spoken to residents who live near Wal-Mart, most of them would gladly move if someone would only buy them out. The very fact you have to construct a high berm and a “living wall” tells you that these lands uses are not compatible. This is a classic case of bad land use planning. For earlier stories on Guelph battles against Wal-Mart, search by the name of the town.