The city of Hamilton in southern Ontario, Canada, is located half way between Niagra Falls and Toronto, in an area they call “the Golden Horseshoe,” one of North America’s largest population centers, with over 25% of the Canadian population. In 2000, Hamilton and five surrounding municipalities, Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough, Glanbrook and Stoney Creek, merged to form the new amalgamated City of Hamilton. Wal-Mart Canada has long been attracted to the Golden Horseshoe, and has been doing some pitching of its own to city officials. The giant retailer is trying to saturate the area with superstores, and local officials are trying to determine how much is too much. On June 10th, Hamilton officials put off consideration of a Wal-Mart superstore near Fifty Road. The proposal will be taken up by a planning committee on June 16th. “The (developer) and councilors had some questions about the timing of the studies that are needed,” said one Stoney Creek councilor who represents the area where the development is located. Councilors want to review what impact the city’s planned transit center will have on the 471,000 s.f. retail project that includes the Wal-Mart. Mady Development, which is proposing the Wal-Mart, claims the roadways can handle the increase in cars that Wal-Mart will bring, but opponents charge that Fifty Road and other roadways nearby will not be able to handle the traffic. They worry that city taxpayers will end up paying millions of dollars to upgrade the roads. City officials say improvements to Fifty Road is slated for improvements — but not for another 11 years. Mady Development wants to build a mixed use development including the Wal-Mart, but area residents convinced the planning committee to require Mady to complete studies on traffic, stormwater management, and urban design. But the developer warned that if the Council delays the rezoning request, Mady would appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board. At the same time, Wal-Mart is also part of a second plan that has begun its planning commission review. This second project is located on Centennial Parkway, and includes a hotel and office space. The Fifty Road and the Centennial Parkway Wal-Marts would be roughly 6 miles apart. According to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper, one Hamilton councilor has come out in favor of the Centennial project, which is being proposed by Smart Centres, and is a 480,000 square-foot commercial shopping center. Last fall Hamilton approved a grant request from Smart Centres to clean up the contaminated site. But the two Wal-Mart superstores so close together has rankled local citizens. A third Wal-Mart store is located in Hamilton as well, and it is expected that this original store will be shut down, and moved to the Smart Centres project, leaving Hamilton with an empty box. Opponents of the Fifty Road project argued on June 2nd that the development would have a negative impact on the surrounding neigborhoods, and overburden the local infrastructure. Smart Centres has been quoted as saying that Wal-Mart sees no conflict between two superstores six miles apart.
The Hamilton Community News ran an editorial recently called “The Walmartization of Hamilton,” comparing the city with its reputation of being the “Tim Hortons capital of Canada,” due the volume of coffee shop franchises in the city. “Wal-Mart, the monolithic discount retailer, is certainly doing its best to transform Hamilton into the next Wal-Martville,” the newspaper wrote. “With four current locations in the greater Hamilton area, and two more just minutes away in Burlington, Wal- Mart would appear to have the market saturated.” The newspaper took note of the very vocal opposition to Wal-Mart, and remarked, “There certainly seems to be an air of anti Wal-Mart hysteria fueling the opposition.” The Community News wonders “whether Hamilton needs another commercial development of this size and within 10 kilometres of another Wal-Mart-based development… These big box developments have exacerbated the city’s traffic congestion and infrastructure problems. Still, Wal-Mart and these mega-developments are not the problem. It’s the city’s antiquated development policies that fail to incorporate environmentally sustainable planning guidelines to force these retail giants to create pedestrian-friendly areas.” Rather than simply accept the developer’s plans as presented, the Community News suggests that the city “has a chance to force retail giants to break their big box mentality to create greener, cleaner and inviting plazas for the benefit of residents and the environment alike.” Readers are urged to email Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Fred, Smart Centres claims that Wal-Mart has no problem with locating two superstores 10 kilometers apart (6 miles) — but maybe the residents of Hamilton should be concerned about saturation. Not only is market share control not good for local competition, but it does overburden your infrastructure, and as your constituents have pointed out in both Centennial and Fifty Road, the traffic is big around big boxes. This kind of retail over-development will leave you with empty stores (the ‘old’ Wal-Mart will be the first casualty) that are very difficult to fill. Hamilton is under no obligation to rezone land for any developer, much less one that is cannibalizing its own sales. Don’t be intimidated by the developer’s threat to go to the OMB. These developers will try to get by litigation what they cannot get by regulation. But if land is not correctly zoned, it’s an open and shut case. In this case, if you keep Wal-Mart from opening, you will prevent it from shutting other stores. I urge the City Council to reject the rezoning requests.”