Big-box retail faces a battle

Canadian Tire’s plan to open a store at 26 Southwest Marine Drive won’t be the only issue involved when city council holds a public hearing on the big-box retailer’s application on November 13, says former Vancouver councillor Anne Roberts.

Roberts was a member of the previous council that rejected the applications of both Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart in 2005. She told the Georgia Straight that Mayor Sam Sullivan’s “EcoDensity Initiative” will be front and centre, just as much as the latest proposal to build 262,210 square feet of retail space near the Canada Line.

“It’s such a contradiction to have a big-box store generating all this traffic, and then talk about EcoDensity or talk sustainability,” Roberts told the Georgia Straight. “When small businesses go out of business, then people have nowhere else to shop, so they’ll get in their cars and shop out there. The idea of EcoDensity to build neighbourhood centres where people can shop close to home is being undermined by big-box retail.”

Roberts said that big-box retail is an outdated model for doing business in terms of its impacts on the environment, traffic, and nearby neighbourhoods. For one, the proposed Canadian Tire store will generate 11,000 car trips a day, she said. The former COPE councillor also pointed out that one side of the store will cut across the bikeway on Ontario Street. She said that these were some of the reasons why the COPE-led council rejected the idea of having a Canadian Tire store on the site and a Wal-Mart store just next door on 86 Southeast Marine Drive. However, Wal-Mart hasn’t submitted a new application.

“They [Canadian Tire] submitted the same application,” Roberts said. “To me, that’s just a very political act: ‘Oh, that was a COPE council. We don’t have to listen to them any more. It doesn’t matter what the citizens said. Now we have our friends in office. We can just do what we want to do.’ The NPA council has clearly indicated that it will embrace Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart, so the writing is on the wall.”

Caroline Casselman, a spokesperson for Canadian Tire, told the Straight that the project enjoys popular support. She said polling done by the Mustel Group last summer indicated that more than 83 percent of local residents and 83 percent of local businesses are in favour of having the store.

Casselman said that the proposed development “isn’t substantially different” from its previous submission, which featured environmentally friendly design, materials, and practices. The Toronto-based company spokesperson declined to comment on whether the new composition of council will make a difference this time. “We think it’s a strong proposal,” she said. “We’re happy to put it forth to whoever represents the community.”

In July 2006, Sullivan and his five NPA councillors voted in favour of a motion that retained the large-format use of the Marine Drive strip between Main Street and Yukon Street. The motion was opposed by the five councillors belonging to COPE and Vision Vancouver.

NPA councillor Suzanne Anton dismissed Roberts’s claim that Canadian Tire’s application looks like a done deal.

“We have to have an open mind because people will be coming in with different points of view,” Anton told the Straight. “Those points of view should have the ability to influence our decisions, because that’s the whole point of the public hearing. I can’t make up my mind right now and then just sit there and pretend to listen to the public.”

Anton also described as “questionable” the notion that the NPA is a pro-developer party that always votes in favour of business. “If you to want to know who developers supported in the last election, they supported everybody,” she said.

COPE councillor David Cadman predicted that an approval of big-box store applications on Marine Drive is “going to burst the bubble of the mayor’s EcoDensity Initiative”.

“What is significant here is though the city is, in theory, adopting EcoDensity,” Cadman told the Straight, “what they’re in fact doing is placing immediately adjacent to a new transit stop on the Canada Line two big-box stores with huge amounts of parking that will entail large amounts of truck traffic and vehicle traffic to them and at the same time saying to other communities: ‘You must accept density.'”

Big-box store opponents, according to Roberts, are planning a rally a week before council holds its November 13 public hearing.

Canadian Tire has contracted the communications group James Hoggan and Associates Inc. to help out in its publicity campaign. The same James Hoggan and Associates Inc. contributed more than $10,000 to the campaign coffers of Vision Vancouver for the 2005 election.

A Web page ( whose e-mail contact information is being maintained by the same communications outfit, noted that many Vancouver residents drive to Richmond and Burnaby to shop in Canadian Tire stores larger than the one on Heather Street, which the proposed store will replace. “A new store on Southwest Marine Dr. with increased product selection would cut down on an estimated several hundred car trips per day,” it stated.

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