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2007-10-19
Stratford, Ontario. Wal-Mart Gets Rolled Back On Initial Vote

On June 28, 2005, Sprawl-Busters printed a plea for help from a resident in Stratford, Ontario. "Dear Friends in the Cause," he wrote, "I am 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 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. To bring legislative effect to this report, Council was prepared to pass Official Plan Amendment 10, requiring any new big box applicant to locate in the west end or downtown. Just before this amendment was to be passed, First Pro appeared before council, and got permission to do their own study. More than a year later, they produced a seriously flawed study. There are three Wal-Mart stores now operating, and a fourth planned, all within 30 miles of our city, which has a population of 30,000." Now, nearly two and a half years later, the developer has changed, Amendment 10 passed, and the citizens of Stratford have scored an initial major victory over the developer and Wal-Mart. This week the 112,000 s.f. Wal-Mart project came before local officials for a vote. Before the hearing began, the Beacon Herald reports that supporters and opponents of Wal-Mart had lined up against each other during a protest walk to City Hall, with more than 100 anti-Wal-Mart protestors on the proposed Wal-Mart site near Sears wearing t-shirts that read, "Roll Back Wal-Mart." Across the street in a Zellers parking lot, a handful of Wal-Mart supporters watched, many of them sitting in their parked cars. According to the Herald, the two groups taunted each other, with the pro Wal-Mart faction yelling, "I hope you got your T-shirts at Wal-Mart." One opponent told the 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, denying the Wal-Mart plan. The final vote, however, must be taken by the City Council on October 22nd. If the Council accepts the Planning Committee recommendation, the developer, Avonwood Shopping Centres Ltd., has 21 days to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board. A Wal-Mart spokesman, to intimidate local officials, made it clear to the Herald that his company won't take No for an answer. "The OMB exists for this sort of situation where we feel the facts are in our favor and it has been strongly suggested Wal-Mart would be an appropriate fit for the market. Whether we take that route is yet to be decided, but we are disappointed in tonight's decision because the facts stack up so highly in our favor." But the votes didn't stack up among the 11 members of the Commission. The hearing ran almost three hours, and the outcome was far from predictable. 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 Herald, "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."

What you can do: Stratford residents against Wal-Mart, who dominated the hearing, argued repeatedly that Wal-Mart would have a significant adverse impact on existing merchants in the city. Others testified that industrial land should be held back for better-paying industrial jobs, which do not replace existing employment. Some people simply wanted Wal-Mart to find a more appropriate location. Wal-Mart testified that the Council should remember a survey that the company produced, which showed 83% of Stratford residents already shop at Wal-Mart and 63% want the retailer in the city. Wal-Mart often hires polling companies to conduct these private surveys, but rarely reveal the actual wording of the survey, or even which geographic area they polled. Avonwood also agreed to pay for expensive roadwork needed to accommodate the huge store, and estimated that the store would pay $700,000 in property taxes annually -- not mentioning the city cost of providing police and fire services to the store. In the end, the project was opposed by a local business group, the City Centre Committee, which promised to raise funds needed to help defend the city's decision if Wal-Mart goes to the OMB. The CCC explained that it was not saying No to Wal-Mart, but Yes to good planning and a west-end location. Although the Beacon Herald has suggested that the October 22nd vote by the City Council will be a "formality," readers are urged to contact Mayor Mathieson by calling City Hall at: 519-271-0250 x 236. Tell the Mayor, "Keep industrial land in Stratford zoned for industrial purposes. Thank you for voting against Wal-Mart, and encourage the full Council to vote this huge mistake down. Wal-Mart brings neither jobs nor revenue to Stratford, and will undermine your efforts to strengthen the downtown."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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