The Walmart in the Uptown Shopping Centre opened in 2010. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Saanich councillor feels new Walmart at Hillside a step in the wrong direction

‘We’ll all fail our climate goals if we don’t make radical changes to land use,’ says the councillor

After more than a year of rumours, Walmart employees confirmed that a third Supercentre location is coming to Hillside Shopping Centre but not everyone is pleased about it.

Saanich Coun. Zac de Vries feels filling the almost 150,000 square-foot void left by Sears with another department store is a step in the wrong direction when it comes to land use.

He acknowledged that the new Walmart will be in Victoria, not Saanich, but pointed out that it will be frequented by Saanich residents as the mall is so close. He took to Twitter to voice his dissatisfaction and residents replied emphasizing a need for counselling services, child cares facilities and office spaces – not another department store.

Walmart coming to Hillside may be logical from the perspective of the mall and some residents, de Vries noted, but following the same model won’t put Greater Victoria on a path to meet climate goals or to get away from a dependence on vehicles.

De Vries – who studied geography and urban health and development at the University of Victoria – wishes the land use could have been optimized and that appropriate space could have been created for “non-economic, but important” businesses.

The Walmart business model, he said, is to acquire cheap real estate and have people drive to the stores from large catchments to buy in bulk. He said this not only results in “ma and pa grocery stores” going out of business, but it supports auto-centricity – a dependence on cars – in a region where alternative modes of transportation are being encouraged to reduce carbon emissions.

De Vries emphasized that this issue isn’t with Walmart, but with the department store model and the factors that keep the model in use.

Zoning bylaws play a large role in land use, he explained. Bylaws make it illegal to open local grocery stores in residential areas which makes neighbourhoods less walkable. The “ma and pa grocery stores” with no parking that exist in the region are remnants of old bylaws, de Vries noted.

Land-use patterns that separate residential and commercial land keep communities quieter by keeping density low. However, de Vries said this undermines efforts to make the region more sustainable and affordable.

“We are rooted in a culture of the single-family home, but we’re starting to redefine what’s considered ideal.”

A great street, de Vries said, can be “four floors and corner stores.” Neighbours could connect and infrastructure such as bus stops and bike lanes could be added more quickly if more people are living in the area, using the existing infrastructure and funding new additions.

He pointed out that Saanich’s Active Transportation Plan is a 30-year plan and will bring desired upgrades slowly because of Saanich’s outward sprawl. More compact cities have better infrastructure, he said.

He emphasized that reducing emissions requires lifestyle change but if Greater Victoria municipalities want residents to walk more, “they need stuff to walk to.”

Big box stores are “not a destination for enjoying an afternoon,” de Vries said, there’s something “almost romantic” about visiting a local grocery store. He feels department stores can act like corner stores if the value-per-acre is acknowledged and parking lots are swapped for more valuable facilities.

“We’ll all fail our climate goals if we don’t make radical changes to land use,” and halt urban sprawl and auto-centric development,” de Vries said.

– With files from Shalu Mehta.

devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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