The Day the Protests Died

Monday, July 24, 2006

Last week, with the announcement of a settlement between a Multi-Faith Initiative representing the Ignatius Jesuit Centre and the City of Guelph and 6&7 Developments Limited more or less officially ended the protracted, decade long battle to keep retail giant Wal-Mart out of the Royal City.

With all appeals settled, construction on the Wal-Mart being built on Woodlawn Road is moving full speed ahead with an eye on opening the new 133,000 sq. foot store before the busy Christmas shopping season.

After the Ontario Municipal Board dismissed legal action by the grassroots group Residents for Sustainable Development to stop the construction of a Wal-Mart in Guelph; a broad-based group of religious leaders came together to file an appeal against a city by-law that allowed construction near a trifecta of historical sites in the same area.

The appeal to Ontario Superior Court under the basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had to do with the potentiality for greater noise and visual distractions for Centre visitors from the commercial development of the site, which is immediately adjacent to the retreat. Although Wal-Mart is the first project on the land, 6&7 Developments had plans to continue construction on the property with a “Phase 2” commercial construction project.

The settlement promises visual and noise mitigation through the planting of trees and other natural methods to insure the integrity and beauty of the area is maintained so that the Jesuit Centre remains the splendid religious retreat that it is. As for “Phase 2”, the agreement allows for an increase in the amount of retail space from 150,000 sq. feet to 400,000.

This last point though has awoken a sleeping giant, the Residents for Sustainable Development (RSD), who are challenging not just 6&7 Development’s planned expansion of the commercial space in the North end but the City’s entire Commercial Policy Review to the Ontario Municipal Board. The RSD had already filed a motion with the OMB concerning the construction of a mega-Zehrs in the south end, but this action is separate and all RSD challenges have been on hold as the details of the Jesuit Centre settlement was being sorted out.

A spokesperson for the RSD hopes that their appeal will be heard by the OMD in the fall, but no matter which way the gavel turns with the RSD appeal, the settlement agreement with the Jesuits stands, according to Centre lawyer Eric Gillespie. 6&7 Development Ltd. has promised to keep $100,000 in trust for the Jesuit Centre to put towards blocking view of the commercial development from the retreat, while the businesses keep lighting and noise levels to current standards or lower.

“Though this is a decent agreement for Wal-Mart to have made with the Jesuit Centre, it is a disappointment that Guelph's ten year battle against Wal-Mart is now over,” says CSA Local Affairs Commissioner Bre Walt, who has been active in the fight against Wal-Mart with the campus group Students Against Corporate Control.

“I realize that Wal-Mart is spending a lot of money to make these concessions and some would commend them for that; however, Wal-Mart is the world's largest corporation so it is no skin off their back to spend more money in order to open up another store. I highly commend the hard work and dedication that many people have put in to fight Wal-Mart in Guelph, and I feel for them right now. But they must know that the work they have done is highly respected, appreciated and admired by other concerned citizens in Guelph."

While the battle against Wal-Mart may be over, the War on Urban Sprawl and Corporate Development is far from finished and promises to be as bloody as ever as we head into election season.

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