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2008-08-23
Dunnville, Ont. Indians Blamed For Wal-Mart Withdrawal

In June of 2007, it looked like Wal-Mart was on a firm course to build a 101,100 s.f. store on 17 acres in Dunville, Ontario, in Haldimand County. According to the Dunville Chronicle, representatives of the landowner, Calloway REIT had met with a native Indian group known as Six Nations. Calloway Real Estate Investment Trust had hired Smart Centres to develop the store at the corner of Taylor Road and North Shore Drive, The project included a Boston Pizza and a Taco Bell. At that time, Calloway described its sit-down with Six Nations as positive. "We're still talking," they said. "We will meet with them again. It's looking very positive. We managed to get a very good relationship going. The project will continue for sure. We are committed to it." But Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer feared that the Indians would derail the project. "It's upsetting," the Mayor said. "The property would bring in $450,000 in property taxes a year and 200 jobs. Wal-Mart is a much needed store to keep people in the community." The Mayor said people all over the county were upset about Wal-Mart's negotiations. "If they don't come to any agreement, I don't think the native brigade is going to be very cooperative," one local resident told the Chronicle. Fourteen months later, the negotiations have crumbled. This week the Dunnville Chronicle reported that Wal-Mart had backed out of the deal. "They have gone away for the immediate future," said County Councilor Lorne Boyko, "but they were really keen on Dunnville. They're still very, very keen on Dunnville and if things every get settled around here, there's a possibility that Dunnville will be revisited. I'm hopeful that sometime time in the near future, I will be dealing with these people again." Boyko said when he learned from Calloway that the project had fallen apart, he was disappointed and frustrated. "This is a bad day for Dunnville. I think (the store) would be in the best interests of Dunnville and it would have freed up additional developments and projects and progressive actions in the community. There were other businesses coming in on their coat tails..I think you would have seen the face of Dunnville change for the better." The county has become increasingly concerned about tension between Six Nations, developers, and the county. The Wal-Mart project had been under discussion since March of 2005. Smart Centres told county officials that Dunnville was underserved by department stores. That raised the ire of local business owners. In June of 2006, Wal-Mart Canada and Smart Centres said there was no Indian land claim on the property, and there were no Indian artifacts found in an archaeological study. But in 1993, the Canadian federal government gave Six Nations claim for financial compensation for mortgage payments on the 30,800-acre Moulton Township, where the shopping centre is located. In September of 2006, the Haldimand County Council approved a smaller, 90,000 s.f. Wal-Mart. Part of the deal included a $15,000 payment for five years to the downtown business community. Pocket change to Wal-Mart. The County expected to earn $450,000 in property taxes from the store -- not counting the losses from existing businesses that closed. The Council's vote was appealed by competitor Loblaws and Dell Phaarmacies, but their appeal was later dropped. But shortly after the Council vote, Six Nations challenged Calloway REIT's land title. Talks began with Six Nations in June 2007, and then with the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI) established by Six Nations to oversee planning in the Haldimand Tract. By June of 2008, Wal-Mart had made it clear that they did not want to get caught in a land title controversy. Boyko claims that outrageous demands by the Indians killed the deal. Boyko said that Calloway REIT was asked to sign a document stating they did not have title to the land and that they would lease it from Six Nations. When the head of the Dunnville Chamber of Commerce heard of the collapsed deal, she said, "I kept a light burning in hopes that they were coming but knew it was unlikely. Why would a company put up with that when they can go anywhere? The natives are accountable. We had something going on in our town to better Dunnville and bring jobs but the plug was pulled." The email from Calloway to the County said: "As a result of further market research and altered business strategies, Calloway REIT has confirmed that it's anchor tenant, Wal-Mart Canada, will no longer be opening a new store in our Dunnville project. Calloway's plans to develop the remainder of the site are currently being reviewed. Calloway remains committed to the people of Dunnville and is appreciative of the excellent work and assistance that the local government and representatives, business community and neighbours have shown." One local Wal-Mart opponent responded by saying, "Wow. I'm surprised. Quite shocked and surprised... It went in a direction I never expected. I'm pleasantly surprised." Councilor Boyko doesn't just blame the Indians for the impasse. He's upset with the Canadian government as well for leaving these issues unresolved. "We've been telling the federal and provincial governments they better get this situation resolved because this is killing us."

What you can do: Dunnville's representatives see this demise as the loss of tens of millions in investment. As Council Boyko said, "It was a signal that Dunnville was alive and well." Dunnville describes itself as "a picturesque community of 12,000 people located along the Grand River on Highway #3, between the Niagara and Hamilton regions, and less than an hour away from the U. S. border." The town promotes the "relaxed down-home atmosphere of the downtown Dunnville business section. Spacious streets feature rustic coachlight lanterns, with hanging baskets of flowers, welcoming you to browse through the unique shops and restaurants." Dunnville is also the site of one of the largest wetlands in Ontario and is an attraction for bird watchers and nature photographers. The community's slogan is: "Grand Living in a Great Town." The development of a huge Wal-Mart is such a location is incompatible with the town's land use character and goals. The Haudenosaunee Development Institute, sent a letter in 2007 to the province asserting aboriginal title over much of the land adjacent to the Grand River, all the way from Lake Erie to Grey County, and the institute began a public campaign about its land rights. The "aboriginals" have demanded a say in future developments. Toronto lawyer Aaron Detlor, who heads the Haudenosaunee Development Institute, said "We are going to go out, and identify specific areas where it's clear there's been no surrender and no payment, and go and advise people, this is not your land. There's no more of this sweeping it under the rug. It's not OK to steal land anymore and we're going to make people aware of that." The group asserts that it has had a right to control this land since 1784. In the fall of 2007, the province of Ontario rejected the authority of Six Nations over the land, and denied the indians' right to charge fees or seek permits. But Six Nations put developers and their banks on notice that their projects were at risk because they haven't been cleared by Six Nations. "We're simply not in a situation in history any longer where Canadian governments are going to dictate solely... how and what is going to be done on Six Nations land," Detlor said. County Mayor Marie Trainer says because of this dispute, development has ground to a halt for several years. She want the Ontario government to step in. "Developers are just the meat in the sandwich again," she said. Six Nation's Chief Allen MacNaughton counters: "Ontario is making decisions on lands it doesn't own." HDI spokesperson Aaron Detlor added: "The government can say what it wants to say. We know the development community is going to come to the HDI and if they don't, there's not going to be any development." Readers are urged to contact Haldimand County Mayor Marie Trainer at mayor@haldimandcounty.on.ca with the following message: "Your Worship, One of the best things to happen to the county recently was the excellent news that Wal-Mart is gone. You say that your residents are your strongest asset, and that 'it is our friendly small town atmosphere that keeps people coming back year after year.' If you value that tourist dollar returning -- then don't promote huge, sprawling development that is incompatible with the character of your small towns. It is pathetic to have a Councilor saying that he needs a Wal-Mart to prove that Dunville is 'alive and well.' The Wal-Mart project was too large, and in the wrong place. Ironically, Six Nations has protected your from yourself. Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development. It largely draws its sales from existing Canadian businesses -- and wires its profits back to Arkansas -- where it becomes part of a much larger balance sheet. This project does not mean jobs and taxes -- not after you subtract out what is lost at existing merchants. Dunnville is a small town, it does not need a huge store. I urge Haldimand County to add a size cap to your zoning ordinance of 60,000 s.f. to ensure that if, in the future, Wal-Mart returns, they will do so at a scale that is compatible with your small town atmosphere."










 
 
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