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London Drugs submits rezoning application to RMOW

Store would be two levels, 17,000 square feet

After months of rumours and letters to the editor, London Drugs made its application to build a superstore in Whistler official last week.

On Thursday, May 12, London Drugs submitted its application to rezone the Larco property in the Village Common to accommodate a 17,000 square foot store. The company held a public open house on the same day to share their vision for the property, and to gather more feedback from the community.

"We’ve done lots and lots of homework in the Whistler community over the past year to get to this point because we wanted to be sure that what we were proposing was a fit for the community," said Andrew Pottinger, a consultant for London Drugs.

"All of the surveys we’ve done regarding the appearance and location of the store have been overwhelmingly positive."

According to a survey of 54 residents and 25 non-residents, 70 per cent of respondents said the design of the store was fitting or somewhat fitting for Whistler Village. Another 66 per cent said the store would be a strong or moderate draw to the village. When asked whether they would use the store, 63 per cent of respondents said "definitely" or "probably".

While the application is now in the hands of the municipal planning department and council, Pottinger says the store will continue to check with the community to see if there is anything they can do to help the project fit into the village.

Council is currently considering a bylaw that would limit the size of village stores to 5,000 square feet, The bylaw went to first reading on Monday, and could kill the London Drugs application if it is passed.

As it stands, the London Drugs proposal calls for a top floor area of 4,300 square feet and a bottom floor area of 12,750 square feet, space that currently sits empty. There will also be shipping dock elevator at street level.

"It’s difficult to know what councillors will do," said Pottinger. We have so many customers in Whistler who want to see Vancouver pricing and the selection that we’re confident that we have community support. All of the surveys and polling show that we have tremendous community support. And we hope that councillors will listen to the community."

Opponents of the London Drugs project are concerned that the large chain will be the final straw to put smaller local stores out of business, while creating a more generic shopping experience in Whistler.

Two of the women who attended the open house work for the municipality and asked to be remain anonymous, but were in favour of the store. "You want my opinion? Yes, yes, and yes," she said. "I’m driving to Vancouver way too much. I’m sick of driving down to the city to get things we need, things which we should be able to buy up here."

According to Pottinger, those kinds of comments confirm what London Drugs believes — that the store will attract more shoppers to the village.

"We’re just starting a retail study with a consultant to look at the anchor effect that this store will have in keeping money in Whistler," he said.

"If you look at one of the surveys we did in Whistler, 80 per cent of the people we talked to had shopped at a London Drugs in the last two months, and many of them have shopped there more than once. Those are dollars that are being spent outside of Whistler.

"And you can bet if they’re shopping at London Drugs, they’re spending their money at other stores too. With a study we hope to be able to show that other businesses will benefit from London Drugs being in Whistler because money stays in the community, because the store will draw people to the village."

While he acknowledged that it was going to be an uphill battle, if approved construction would start immediately and the store would be completed in approximately six months.