Wal-Mart Canada seems determined to ignore the zoning map in Stratford, Ontario, and wants the community to change its plans to suit the corporation. Even after three years of resistance and outright rejection, Wal-Mart keeps trying to push its way into the city. On June 28, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Canadian citizens group in Stratford was reaching out for help to stop a proposed Wal-Mart project. The group Stratford First wrote: “We are writing to solicit your support in our campaign against Wal-Mart and its developer First Pro. First Pro acquired a 64-acre parcel of land in the east end of this city. The parcel has been zoned industrial for many years. The city commissioned a study by Robin Dee & Associates which concluded that the arrival of another big box store would seriously harm the other retailers in Stratford. It further concluded that if we could not stop the arrival of a big box store, we should insist that it locate in a vacant industrial site downtown or at a site in the west end of the city. On October 19, 2007, we reported that the 112,000 s.f. Wal-Mart project came before local officials for a vote. More than 100 anti-Wal-Mart protestors were there, wearing t-shirts that read, “Roll Back Wal-Mart.” One opponent told the local newspaper, “They don’t need our money and I know we don’t need them. I just don’t want them anywhere near Stratford. If you have a chance to fight them off, I guess you take that opportunity.” Inside city hall, the floor and balcony seats were packed. The City Council had to decide whether or not to change the zoning from industrial to commercial. When the dust had settled, Wal-Mart walked out empty-handed. The city’s planning and heritage committee voted 7-4 to keep Official Plan Amendment 10 as is. Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson, who had been careful not to reveal his position on the subject, ultimately was the 7th vote against the project. “I waited it out,” he told the media, “and looked at the expert reports and made sure every piece of information available was taken into consideration. Everyone had the opportunity over three years to review expert information, to attend public meetings and to hear all sides,” he said. “People thought we were slow, but at the end of today, at the last public meeting, we were able to make the best decision that affects the future vision of the city.” This week, Sprawl-Busters received the following citizen’s report from the frontlines in Stratford: “We are a unique little Victorian city of about 32,000 population in Mid-western Ontario. Our major industries are automotive parts manufacturing and four theatres owned and operated by the Stratford Shakespearean Festival. Our downtown is surviving, but there are some empty stores. We have a retail development in the east end of the city on our major east-west highway, comprising a Zeller’s (a Canadian version of Target), Sears, Canadian Tire, Winners and a number of other smaller retailers, located in two shopping centers across the road from each other. There is a 36 acre site behind the one shopping centre that is zoned industrial that was purchased by FirstPro, the developer for Wal-Mart. FirstPro has several identities, including Othello, and Avonwood. The Senior Vice President of FirstPro is Allan Scully. The present zoning would allow for a building supply center such as Home Depot. There are two existing Wal-Marts and a scheduled Super Store within 25 miles of Stratford. On the advice of its consultants, the City had prepared Official Plan Amendment 10, which would reinforce the present zoning and legislate the consultants’ recommendations of requiring future retail development to locate in the west end of the city. Under a thinly veiled threat of taking the city to the Ontario Municipal Board, managed to get a deferral on passing OPA 10. That was in February 2004. After a bewildering number of meetings, Council voted earlier to deny FirstPro’s application, and of course, FirstPro has taken the matter to the Ontario Municipal Board. The hearing at the OMB is to be held in January, 2009. The meetings were all very well attended by mostly local citizens opposed to the application. Also, the main citizen’s group, Stratford First, produced more than 3,000 signed cards opposed to this development. Laila Viani gets the credit for this major effort. The City Centre group, representing downtown retailers, is also strongly opposed. There have been two more consultants’ reports tabled since then that bluntly describe FirstPro’s reports as “misleading”. However, there is now a Council meeting scheduled November 26 to reconsider the whole issue.
Readers are urged to mail or email the Mayor and/or Council, the mailing address is City of Stratford, 1 Wellington Street, Box 818, Stratford, ON N5A 6W1. The website for emailing public officials in Stratford is www.city.stratford.on.ca. The pressure from FirstPro must be extremely intense. The most useful thing opponents can do would be to contact the Mayor and councilors, by going to the city’s web page. The councilors to contact in particular would be Keith Culliton and David Hunt, as they are the ones who seem to have changed their minds. Councilor Hunt in particular made reference to the opposition to this change as being anti-Wal-Mart. The concern is that once this precedent is set, then what is the use of even having a planning department? “We must not let developers push us around,” our correspondent in Stratford says. “Council made a ruling, and now are back-tracking.” Readers should leave this message: “Keep industrial land in Stratford zoned for industrial purposes. Thank you for voting against this Wal-Mart project in the past, and I hope the full Council will vote this huge mistake down. You voted on this project — don’t flip-flop on the issue now. Wal-Mart brings neither jobs nor revenue to Stratford, and will undermine your efforts to strengthen the downtown.” For more information, or copies of any reports on impacts in Stratford, email [email protected]