The Revelstoke Crossing shopping centre proposal moved one step closer to approval after a contentious one-hour debate by council last Tuesday afternoon.
Mayor Mark McKee joined councillors Gary Sulz, Trevor English and Linda Nixon in giving his support for third reading. Aaron Orlando and Connie Brothers voted against it, while Scott Duke recused himself from the discussion due to his business relation with the property owner Steve Platt.
Council was voting on a zoning amendment that will add grocery store and pharmacy use to the Revelstoke Crossing property at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 23 North.
The company Hall Pacific plan on developing a shopping centre on the property.
The proposal has been subject to vigorous debate in the community, with the proponent saying it will generate $20 million in economic activity, increase the tax base by $500,000 and create 200 short-term and 200 long-term jobs.
The development was strongly opposed at a public hearing two weeks ago, with most arguing it was not the right development for the property, and that it would hurt Revelstoke’s downtown core.
The discussion took about an hour, with each councillor saying his or her piece before the vote was called.
Sulz supported the development, saying that after much thought, he felt council needed to encourage growth. “My vision for Revelstoke champions growth in all sectors,” he said. “I do believe that this is the right thing to do. I feel this project will complement our community and open doors for other growth without infringing on the benefits that others enjoy.”
Orlando wavered in his decision, presenting arguments for and against before deciding to vote against the proposal. On the positive side, he noted the development would bring in tax revenues and contribute development cost charges to improve the highway intersection. He said the shopping centre could help prevent out-of-town shopping, but it would also lead to duplication of services by adding another pharmacy and grocery store to town.
Orlando questioned holding out for something better that might never come. He also said he didn’t think there was enough space on the highway to truly damage the downtown.
Finally, he voted against the amendment, saying putting core retail services on the highway was poor planning.
“I have to say frankly, I don’t think this is a good planning decision for the community in the sense you don’t put independent services in an area that is self-contained without access for walking, biking,” he said.
English said he’d spoken to many people through his job at the Red Apple, and that most people supported the development. “The support from people that I’ve been speaking with on a day to day basis is overwhelming and I will support this,” he said.
Nixon said she believed this development was the next stage in the town’s growth as a resort community. “It’s an opportunity to connect more with the traveling public, to offer a gateway to the Revelstoke experience,” she said. “I see an opportunity for links and synergy rather than a parasitic viewpoint.”
Brothers argued most strongly against the development, saying she felt the process was happening too quickly and council didn’t have enough information.
“I think we should have as much information as possible to know if what they’re bringing into town is good or not,” she said. “It seems we ask for more detail on people building a shed than we do on this development.
“I’m concerned about not controlling the process.”
She brought up several studies that indicated highway shopping centres were generally bad for a community and said the issue should be studied more before casting a vote. “I’m not saying we don’t carry on with this developer,” she said. “I hope the developer sees the opportunity we have in this community and that he’ll be patient and willing to work with us.”
Mayor McKee voted in favour, calling it a very difficult decision. He remarked that the amount of public comment was the most he’d seen since the debate around the ski resort. He said the vote wasn’t just about the economic benefits of the project, but about the future of Revelstoke.
“It’s about the expansion of our community, the expansion of our business community,” he said. “It’s about retail leakage, it’s about increasing tourism, it’s about having confidence of the future of our community and the future growth of our community.
“I see more opportunities than I see threats and I’m looking forward to the community going forward.”
The development now needs to be approved by the BC Ministry of Transportation before coming back to council for final adoption. It will then need to go through the development permit process before construction can begin.
City planner Dean Strachan said the development permit process would involve things like a traffic study and looking at the design of the development. The drawings and documents would be brought to council for approval.
“From that process there may be recommendations that will result in changes,” he said. “How quickly and how successful that process works depends on how well the city and developer work together.”