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Canadian Tire big box hearing–the fix was in: Ned Jacobs

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Photo: Ann Grant

The following is a first hand report from last night’s City of Vancouver hearing on the proposal for a new, very large store on Marine Drive by Ned Jacobs, who originally distributed his report to the lrc mailing list.

It is reproduced here by courtesy of the author


I understand that when the planning staff report on EcoDensity came before Council Tuesday afternoon, “sustainability” and “reducing our eco-footprint,” and “improving neighbourhood centres” were the words on every councillor’s lips. But when night fell on City Hall, councillors belonging to the party known as the Non-Partisan Association underwent a dramatic transformation which would have made Count Dracula and the Wolfman of Paris drool and turn green with envy; for suddenly EcoDuncity and EcoLarceny reigned supreme.

It wasn’t just that every NPA Councillor voted for the rezoning that will result in a 255,000 square foot highway-oriented retail power center sprawled across a site larger than 4 (Canadian) football fields, adjacent to one of the lowest density areas of the city; it was the specious excuses, soaked in greenwash and dizzy with spin. Councillor Suzanne Anton made much of the few hundred car trips a day Canadian Tire’s PR rep had claimed the development would “repatriate” from big box centres in Richmond and Burnaby, completely ignoring the thousands of additional car trips it would have to generate to turn a profit. Peter Ladner focussed on how “unfair” it would be to turn down the rezoning after the applicant indicated they had already spent $20 million on the site and proposal; but he conveniently disregarded the South Fraser Street BIA , whose representative had protested that it would suck business out of their neighbourhood centre. Several Non-Partisans praised Canadian Tire to the skies for agreeing to build to the LEEDS gold standard. It was really just a smart business move as the increased capital costs will almost certainly be paid off in energy savings over time.

Staff were in a somewhat awkward position–tasked to ensure that the application fit within the existing policy guidelines for “large format” (formerly called “highway-oriented”) retail, while at the same time developing “EcoDensity.” At one point, planning director Brent Toderian expressed willingness to examine the application in light of the new sustainability guidelines–if Council wished. But they didn’t wish hard enough; David Cadman’s amendment to that effect was voted down by the Non-Partisans, 5 to 4. One speaker, Richard Campbell, astutely observed that the proposal didn’t even satisfy the old policy which limited retail uses to those inherently unsuited for neighbourhood centres. Originally, the zone was not supposed to include clothing sales, but the Non-Partisans have also chipped that protection away, making the Marine Drive large format retail zone even less consistent with CityPlan or EcoDensity. But for me, the saddest aspect of this dreary business is the missed opportunities: this site and neighbouring parcels–so well situated in regard to transit–have been relegated to a car-oriented single-use monoculture, when they could be put to much more productive use (for more on this see my recent article in The Tyee.

I figured the fix was in several months ago when planning staff mentioned to our delegation of concerned citizens that they felt they couldn’t just return the same application that the previous Council had rejected. So they had improved the proposal with two left turn bays and reduced access from the Ontario Street bikeway. I realized then that Canadian Tire must have been unofficially assured by the Non-Partisans that this time it would pass, and therefore felt no pressure to introduce significant changes. The clincher, though—and it was a shocker even to this jaded observer—was when out of the blue Anton moved an amendment that the area devoted to clothing sales (tenants Mark’s Work Warehouse and Winners) be upped from the 40,000 sq. ft. limit recommended by staff, to 60,000. Her only explanation was that staff hadn’t convinced her that it would hurt business in neighbourhood centres, and that Oakridge shops were always marking up their prices, anyway (very scientific). When another Councillor reminded her that there was a Zellers at Oakridge, and it showed no signs of going upscale, her face turned red and she hung her head, but refused to utter another word to justify the amendment, nor would any other NPA councillor, despite urging from the opposition. A telling point was that Canadian Tire hadn’t even asked (publicly, that is) for the bonus. This amendment passed, of course– by one vote.

Vision’s George Chow had been away on leave when the hearing commenced two weeks ago, and therefore couldn’t vote, allowing Sam Sullivan to conveniently absent himself from the final night of hearings, the debate and the decision. But it sent a clear message to the big business community: EcoDensity will be available when you need it, but if it gets in your way, don’t worry—EcoHypocricy is here to stay.
Ned Jacobs

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

9 Responses

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  1. I lost my innocence over the proposed (proposed? HA!) soccer stadium, set to be built behind gastown (now that the port has sold the previously public land to the developer). The council heard by-all-objective-standards truly compelling reasons why that was a bad, bad move, yet voted entirely for it. I wish they had told all 97 speakers not to waste their breath. I was devastated more by the realization that it was a foregone conclusion, than the conclusion itself (which was bad enough).

    nancy (aka money coach)

    November 28, 2007 at 10:28 pm

  2. I do think that people will combine trips when they do their weekliy shopping. The Superstore is practically adjacent to the site and it sees a lot of traffic. When the Canadian Tire project opens up (with a rumoured London Drugs as well) people will more likely stop off when they are in the area and not go over the bridge.

    Ecodensity may place stores and people nearby, but when those stores or restaurants don’t suit yours needs or are too expensive, you’ll probably still drive off somewhere to shop every now and again. I live in Yaletown and hit Superstore (Marine or Grandview) once every few weeks because the grocery stores in Yaletown are much too expensive except for the basics like milk or eggs. The Safeway at City Square is a compromise on price when I hit the Fitness World upstairs (combined trip!). As to restaurants, I rarely eat in Yaletown and usually meet friends (who live elsewhere) at cheaper restaurants in other parts of the city.

    Ron C.

    November 29, 2007 at 2:18 pm

  3. Ron – you are probably right, but big box stores are going to look increasingly dated as gas prices climb. The draw of lower prices is in any case illusory. What has happened is that people buy far too much stuff and throw a lot more away. For example, the amount of food waste from households is staggering. And if you did a total cost comparison of the time and average (not marginal) driving cost it might be cheaper to shop locally, more frequently and sell the deep freeze and second fridge. This is not a shot at you personally but at the habits we have come to adopt as a response to cheap gasoline. It will not be cheap in future and the economics of the weekly shop will look quite different.

    Stephen Rees

    November 29, 2007 at 8:20 pm

  4. Just regarding the comment above re: the soccer stadium…. that proposal is still only in the discussion phase – hasn’t even hit rezoning yet. And right now the Whitecaps and the Port are in negotiations regarding the land swap – the Port hasn’t sold any land to anyone in that area.


    November 30, 2007 at 1:39 pm

  5. Well it looks like the SPP’s are allready here in our city hall!
    What with Sambo and his hangdog NPA’s who sold US out for a slice of the pie. His future will be of people looking at him with disgust and loathing which he will well deserve. No self-respect.


    November 30, 2007 at 2:55 pm

  6. Wayne I approved your comment but cannot pretend to understand it

    Who or what is SPP? What did the NPA get from Canadian Tire? Are you suggesting that there was outright corruption?

    Stephen Rees

    November 30, 2007 at 4:05 pm

  7. Re: Ron C’s comment.

    It is an interesting one, and I see his point.

    As someone who lives in Kensington I can see the draw as we don’t have a whole lot that we can walk to really easily Fraser in the 40’s is doable but it’s just a wee bit far.

    Here’s the thing, though…..

    On Thursday afternoon I had to go to the WestEnd to see a dentist (which is a whole different story) and because it was going to take awhile I parked down at the beach so that wouldn’t have to worry about a meter expiring.

    Anyway, when it was all done, I had to do a bit of shopping and thus did it along Denman. After that I walked back through the WestEnd residential streets in the gathering dusk with all kinds of people.

    People walking and playing and making plans and going shopping and going to movies and maybe even going to the dentist.

    And it really was a fantastic thing, because I felt like I was part of the community even though I didn’t live there.

    Of course, my good feelings were probably buoyed by the emergence of a beautiful clear weather winter sunset over English Bay (and a frozen mouth masking a just completed root canal), but still……


    December 1, 2007 at 9:49 am

  8. I think that is the point. Why cannot more of us live in areas where people are walking for nearly all of their activities?

    Now do not please accuse me of being prescriptive. I also believe that we can make free choices. But right now the West End is simply unaffordable for many. And though there are pockets of walkability – even in Richmond – they are, not surprisingly, seen as the more desirable and hence most expensive areas. Steveston carries a distinct premium, and its not just snobbery about the name.

    “Ecodensity” could be about making many more such places – but I rather fear it won’t be. Big box stores have no place in such a vision. But back in the day I did work on integrating what we quaintly called “superstores” into existing town centres in London. They were 25,000 sf supermarkets which today look quite modest, but at least the residents can still walk to them, or take the bus, or park their bikes outside. And they were not just on the edge of town near the motorway interchanges.

    Stephen Rees

    December 1, 2007 at 11:15 am

  9. Yes I believe Sam is crooked right from the start! What happened to James Green? Why did Sam’s NPA pay James Green’s bills? Why was CanWest silent on this fiasco?
    Stephen Ress SPP’s re: Security, Prosperity and Partnership
    The take over of Democracy by Big corrupt corporations answerable only to NWO, Bilderberg, Illuminati, Rothschild, etc!
    Sam and the take over of our taxpayer elected BC Transit board by Kevin Falcon with a rushed through Bill 43. An appointed 5 person board and backed by the disgusting “Board of Trade” and a group of “yes sir” boys! They can appropriate any private property deemed by the real-estate members to be in the way of the Gateway project……


    December 5, 2007 at 2:02 pm

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