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Fueling the big box fire

Residents of the Sunshine Coast are in a frenzy and politicians are springing into action - all over 100,000 sq.ft.

Residents of the Sunshine Coast are in a frenzy and politicians are springing into action - all over 100,000 sq.ft.

At last Thursday's Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board meeting, Gibsons Mayor Barry Janyk proposed a motion that set tongues wagging. Janyk's motion would require that all zoning bylaws be changed to incorporate a maximum cap of 25,000 sq. ft. for all retail and commercial spaces throughout the entire regional district.

"The Sunshine Coast has an appreciation for quality of life, and we need to respect building sizes to incorporate that," explained Janyk.

While some directors were immediately on board, others were more hesitant.

Pender Harbour/Egmont director John Rees said he could not fully commit to the proposal until he had an idea of the possible repercussions that could occur -a sentiment echoed by most other directors, with the exception of Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar.

"I know that my community would be fully behind this motion, since we are taking every step to maintain our community and couldn't see a retail store of even 25,000 sq. ft. in Roberts Creek," Shugar said.

"I do believe the board will be favourable to this decision. It's the desire of the people, and that's our job," Janyk said, in a later interview with Coast Reporter.

The board passed Janyk's motion with the provision that staff conduct more research and collect further information. SCRD staff have committed to preparing a report that will outline all potential problems that this motion could initiate. Staff hope to have the report completed by the end of March.

As for the development application itself, SCRD chief administrator John France said this week it is still in the preliminary stages.

"The application is in-camera right now, and we are going through the processes that we do with any retail application," France said.

Further discussion regarding the retail application will take place at the next SCRD planning and development meeting Feb. 8.

"As far as the motion to rezone to a maximum of 25,000 sq. ft., staff is looking for all the implications that could arise from the motion and will be discussing the findings with the board when we receive that report," France said.

Last week's discussion at the SCRD stems from escalating community concerns over a proposed big box store setting up shop along the dividing line between the Town of Gibsons and Elphinstone.

While there is no confirmed evidence that Wal-Mart has made an application to take over the location adjacent to the IGA mall, many residents of the Sunshine Coast seem convinced that the store is coming to the Coast.A petition against Wal-Mart is circulating in the community, and last week the creators of the film Wal-Town were on the Coast for a screening.

Selling out the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons on Jan. 24, the Wal-Town team spoke to 140 concerned residents about the mega-store and the impacts it has had on small towns across North America and internationally.

"We were contacted by the residents of Gibsons, and we had an extra space on the tour, so we felt this would be a great location to show our film," said director Sergeo Kirby.

WesBild Holdings Ltd. owns the retail space in question. So far WesBild has been tight-lipped about the application for tenancy.

"In regards to our property interests within the Sunshine Coast Regional District, we do not have a committed tenant at this time," said Jennifer Derbyshire, community relations manager for WesBild, in an email to Coast Reporter on Monday. "It is our corporate policy to have our retailers announce their new store location(s). When the time comes that we do have a committed tenant and they have made an announcement in regards to this location, we will have more information."

Coast Reporter asked Janyk this week in a follow-up interview if the tenant was confirmed.

"All we know is that a company out of Seattle has made a bid for tenancy for a retail space of over 100,000 sq. ft. There is no indication that it is a Wal-Mart," Janyk said.