Leaside residents fear Walmart may come to Laird area


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The prospect of a Walmart — and the traffic it or any other large-scale retail store would likely attract — was raised as a concern at a recent public consultation meeting on a big box development application in Leaside.

The Wicksteed Avenue proposal lays out a 147,000-square-foot retail centre with 479 parking spaces at the former site of J. R. Short Mills and Colgate Palmolive Canada. A lead tenant has yet to be selected, but this has done little to assuage residents’ fears.

Coun. John Parker attributes this to the fact that he can’t promise that it won’t be Walmart.

“The name Walmart has a sort of galvanizing effect on communities that the name Holt Renfrew lacks, for whatever reason,” he said.

The local councillor has been advised that although Walmart is a staple of many SmartCentres, its smallest stores are typically 90,000 square feet, whereas this project sets aside 80,000 square feet for its anchor space. He said he would reject the project, if he could, but that planning policies have already paved the way for this to happen.

“The area has already been given over to large retail development,” he said.

Instead, the local councillor is holding the application up to rigorous review. He said he has asked that the commercial impact and traffic studies be peer reviewed. He also had the developer take its proposal to the city’s Design Review Panel.

The design was largely well received, with experts offering only minor suggestions for revisions.

Paula Bustard, the senior director of development at SmartCentres, said that comments and feedback from both the community and the design panel will be addressed as the application moves forward.

As for lining up a lead tenant, she said it’s still early in the process. Right now, the focus is on the design. But she didn’t completely rule out the possibility of a Walmart.

“As you know, we do a lot of work with Walmart and in many centres across Canada,” she said. “If it turned out to be a Walmart, we’d be very pleased to have Walmart as our tenant, but, as we said, we don’t have any tenants at this moment.”

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