It’s the busiest council chambers has been, in years, perhaps ever.
A passionate and mostly united crowd spoke against the proposed Revelstoke Crossing shopping centre for the Trans-Canada Highway at a public hearing on Tuesday, with only a few speaking in favour.
It was standing room only as more than 50 people crowded into council chambers and spilled out into the hallway for the hearing about the proposal by Hall Pacific to develop a shopping centre with a grocery store and pharmacy as anchor tenants at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 23 North.
The hearing was a chance for council to hear from the public. Mayor and council didn’t make any pronouncements of their own, but instead the five of them that were there – Trevor English was away and Scott Duke recused himself because he works with the property owner Steve Platt – listened as the presentations went on for almost two hours.
Council received 33 written submissions regarding the proposal, of which 24 were against, eight for and one neutral. This article looks at what people said in person. You can read the written submissions below.
At the hearing, many of those who wrote in expressing their opposition got up again to speak against the proposal. The calls against the shopping centre were both lengthier and more numerous than those for it.
Fraser Hall, one of the principles of Hall Pacific was the first to speak.
“I’m very excited to bring this forward to Revelstoke,” he said. “We’re incredibly keen on this particular site and the town.”
He presented a project rationale to council that touted the economic benefits of the proposal. It would generate $20 million in direct economic activity, increase the commercial property tax base by $500,000, and create 200 short-term construction jobs and 200 long-term service jobs.
At the same time, he said his company had no interest building something the community didn’t want.
“We hope this is something that can work very closely with the community,” he said. “We would like to add these uses because they are what makes this development feasible.”
A concept image of the proposed Revelstoke Crossing shopping centre. ~ Image by Hall Pacific.
Hall was followed to the microphone by a series of speakers, largely representing the downtown business community, but also including residents and developers, who spoke out against the proposal.
The opposition came down to several opinions. There were those who said the development would hurt or kill the downtown. Others argued it was the wrong use for the space and that the hotel development that was approved almost 10 years ago was preferable. Some questioned the viability of the development, saying it’s hard enough to find staff as it is. Others questioned the design and look of the mall.
Those for it said it would bring development to Revelstoke, create jobs and attract tourists to town.
Steven Hui and David Lafreniere, owners of Pharmasave and People’s respectively, both said it would impact their businesses, but also they feared the impact it would have on downtown.
“There’s a feeling where if we don’t do something now, we’ll be considered closed for business,” said Lafreniere. “If we’re patient, the right development for town will come through.”
He also questioned if the development would help attract people into downtown, and where the businesses would find staff. “Who’s going to fill these jobs? Where are they going to live?”
Malcolm Bott, the owner of Universal Shoes, which is located in the Alpine Village Mall, said he understood the importance of anchor tenants to a mall, adding his business benefitted from next to Cooper’s.
However, he said he had concerns about the development. “I don’t see it catering to what the highway person wants. I see it as a retail project, not a highway project.”
Rob Lamont said businesses in the proposed shopping centre would have an unfair advantage over ones downtown. He said hotels, fast food chains and gas stations were better uses for highway lands. “We would squander our community’s character capital,” he said.
Glen O’Reilly said council needed to decide what the town looks like, and not have developers dictate. He said we need to find developers and bring them to Revelstoke, and not just approve the first developer to come along.
“If we’re ever going to be a tourist destination and not just a town with tourists, we have to plan in this direction,” he said. “We have opportunities other communities do not have. We just have to make sure we don’t squander them.”
He also supported a hotel development.
Robert Powadiuk, a developer and one of the founding partners of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, made the argument the shopping centre would hurt Revelstoke unique heritage downtown.
“It’s a terrific downtown. The town is a huge part of what made the resort possible,” he said.
He argued in favour of building hotels on the site. “The bottom line is we can’t take a chance,” he said. “If this were to go ahead, I wouldn’t put a nickel into the downtown of Revelstoke.”
Resident Virginia Thomson said council needed to look at development “very selectively, very carefully.”
“To put something like that along the highway is going to desecrate something that is a real treasure,” she said. “It’s better to have one-off stores where the owner lives here and spends money here.”
Fewer people spoke in favour. Brydon Roe said the development could prevent out of town shopping. “On that level, I think it could be a positive thing these gentlemen are bringing forward,” he said.
Don Teuton said he felt the shopping centre would get people to stop in Revelstoke. “What this development is doing, in my mind, is it will stop people,” he said. “They will shop there, but I also think this will be new people that will be shopping in Revelstoke.”
Peter Bernacki delivered the most passionate defence of the development, arguing the town will grow and be able to support the new businesses.
“Anybody that has that kind of vision to come to our down and invest their money, I’ll definitely back you, and the city will back you,” he said. “We’re blessed to have people like you, people like (Steve) Platt, that will bring an income to our town.”
There were a few neutral comments. Judy Goodman, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, presented the results of a member survey that showed 24 out of 36 respondents opposed the development. She expressed concerns the shopping centre would duplicate existing businesses, and that people would stop on the highway, but they wouldn’t come into town because they could get everything they need there.
At the same time, she said there was a strong sentiment to grow Revelstoke through new development.
“I am supportive of new development and as a community we cannot always dictate details,” she said. “In this case, we can control macros.”
An aerial view of the concept image of the proposed Revelstoke Crossing shopping centre. ~ Image by Hall Pacific.
Randy Driediger, the president of the chamber, said there should be more public input, noting only 36 out of more than 300 members responded to the chamber survey, and only 33 submitted public responses to the city.
“The underlying question that I have is how do we get more of the public’s input on this?” he said.
Kevin Dorrius, the head of Community Futures, said the development shouldn’t be supported out of fear nothing else will come along.
“The fear that no one’s ever going to want to do business again I feel is the worst reason to support it,” he said. “I believe if people can make money, they’ll come with another project.”
As the hearing neared the two hour mark, the developer Fraser Hall got up to speak again. “I’m really impressed with the level of commentary,” he said.
He said he’d been involved in two hotel developments before that didn’t go well, and he didn’t want to go that route again. He said the images of the shopping centre that were provided were just concepts and could be revised.
“My hypothesis is this will add traffic to downtown, as crazy as this sounds to this crowd,” he said. “I’m up here saying I think this is a strong benefit to this community and I would not be comfortable saying that if I didn’t truly believe it.
“Without empirical evidence, I feel we’ll add value to downtown,” he added.
The public hearing ended two hours after it began. Now it will be up to the planning department to take what was said and prepare a report to council. The proposal still needs to go through third reading by council and get approval by the Ministry Transportation before it can be approved.
“The community is split. I don’t know what the split is, but it’s going to be a difficult decision,” said Mayor Mark McKee.