The Walmart mall is no natural viewscape

Proposed Walmart, Richmond BC

“Opponents,” said a Richmond Review headline, “worry about loss of Garden City Lands viewscape.” True, but even friends of a right-sized Walmart mall are concerned. It’s unfathomable that a city would buy a central park jewel in a uniquely valuable setting and then let the setting be mangled.

The loss of nature’s art would be priceless, but ruining the view from a property has a big effect on dollar value too. Whatever the $59 million of taxpayer dollars for the purchase is worth now, it would be devalued by millions.

Keep in mind that the mall would line Alderbridge Way for much of the long block from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road. On a clear day, someone far enough south on the lands might look up over all that and spot mountain peaks, but naturally that’s not good enough.

North viewscape from Garden City Lands, Richmond

In the world-class viewscape under threat, we now see mixed urban forest between the lands and the mountains. It’s a continuous natural view except where the city let has let it be marred.

(“Protected” trees were killed” despite the tree bylaw, and an ESA, an “environmentally sensitive area,” became a wasteland when buried under four feet of grey sand. Next steps: eliminate most of the remaining ESA and wipe out every tree from Alderbridge north to Alexandra Road.)

The mall plan shows signage all along Alderbridge, and it’s there to be seen even though the proposal’s artwork plays it down. There may also be enough junk trees for figures to show more “trees” planted than killed. Still, it’s like a billboard that’s 440 metres long and up to 17 metres high. In contrast, the natural viewscape that the façade would trash is an eons-old legacy.

We enjoy the setting from all around the Garden City Lands, our central park in the City Centre, a Metro leader in the number of low-income residents. There’s the mom, for instance, who sleeps on the floor so her children can have the bed. Terra Nova and Garry Point are too far for them, but the lands can be their garden with a view. Unless. . . .

When we look north from the Garden City Lands entrance drive, the natural viewscape is continuous. As it happens, even the distant Alderbridge traffic flows unseen behind a grassy berm.

At the Ideas Fair on the Garden City Lands this summer, city park planner Yvonne Stich kindly set me up with a table facing that way. One visitor after another wanted to know where Walmart would be. I pointed to the long grey mound of wasteland and showed them a colour print of Walmart’s image of its building. Many were horrified. None liked it.

At present, thanks mainly to Councillors Bill McNulty, Harold Steves and Chak Au and citizens who speak up, Richmond council’s planning committee has sent the Walmart mall proposal back to staff.

Kudos! This stage, not a later one, is the time to fix what can be fixed. We need council to conserve our legacies—for today and twenty, fifty and a hundred years from now.

What’s needed? Here’s a start:

At minimum we need the ESA (environmentally sensitive area) all along Alderbridge. It got snuck off the books last year, but it’s grandfathered: it already applied to the project, so it still does.

The ESA/wildlife corridor would need to be at least 20 metres wide, at roughly street level, with restoration monitored by someone like Michael Wolfe who combines knowledge, sensitivity and commitment.

The tree heights have been okay—high enough to be a natural screen but not so high as to block the mountains or get uprooted by winds. Since the forest strip would be so narrow, fitting new evergreens would need to be transplanted into gaps.

Also, any new buildings north of the mall need to respect the viewscape, not tower into it.

To reduce flood risk, the whole mall area would be raised a metre or so. We’ll want thorough drainage (maybe including swales) on the mall level and with walkways well back from the wildlife corridor.

The mall developers have gone to great lengths to adapt their plans so that a nearby developer could make more money. If asked, they might also welcome the chance to conserve our legacies and serve our people. Let’s ask.

If the buildings get moved back 23 metres, that would best allow people to appreciate the mixed urban forest of the wildlife corridor from mall side. That would enable a 15% reduction in mall building area, a step toward getting back to being the neighbourhood mall that was intended. If the city’s traffic studies can be believed, that might eliminate the need for the Alexandra-Leslie road connector that remains another major problem despite standing to cost the developers a fortune.

With some of the massive savings, the developers (including Walmart) could be invited to fund the whole wildlife corridor from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road, restoring it at the world-class level our citizens deserve. Win-wins don’t get better than that. In terms of the developers’ public relations, an epic disaster would become an ongoing success. From a conservation standpoint, I hope that Walmart and its developer partners everywhere would use this as a new standard.

Staff is likely to bring the Walmart mall back to council planning at 4 o’clock on Tuesday, Oct. 8.

Watch this area, the top of this Garden City Conservation blog, for details and updates.

Reminder of Sept. 17 update: The intense and lengthy meeting went fairly well. The Walmart mall proposal was referred back to staff to fill in gaps. It is likely to come back to council (in the form of the planning committee) on Oct. 8, at 4 p.m. Here are my speaking notes for my five minutes of input to council on the issue. Minutes of the Sept. 17 meeting here.

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2 Comments »

  1. 1
    J.K. Says:

    Is the city’s decision to develop that corner and have a walmart there final?

    • 2
      kewljim Says:

      No, it is not final. In fact, there has not been a city council approval at the most basic level, which is council’s planning committee, and the earliest scheduled meeting where a planning committee recommendation to go to a public hearing could occur is October 8. However, there is word from the affected neighbourhood that tenants in houses that would be torn down to make way for the Walmart mall have recently received eviction notices.

      On 2013-09-29 9:47 PM, “Richmond's Garden City Conservation”


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