London Drugs calls foul 

Says indoor recreation debate misleading

P>By Andrew Mitchell

According to the most recent survey by London Drugs, 71 per cent of respondents are in favour of the chain opening a store in Whistler Village.

London Drugs also recognizes that the store has its share of opponents who believe, among other things, that the store is too big, would take away business from other local stores that helped build the community, does not fit in with the retail vision for the village, and would require rezoning a large underground space formerly occupied by Alpenrock.

It’s this last point that is touchy for London Drugs. During the election campaign they are concerned that some candidates are claiming that rezoning the space to allow London Drugs would result in the loss of that space for an indoor recreation facility, which the site was originally zoned for.

In London Drugs’ opinion, those claims are not entirely accurate.

"Because there is so much misinformation out there about our application we’ve made a point of briefing all the candidates about what we believe to be the status of that property, which we’re trying to create into a London Drugs store," said Wynne Powell, president of London Drugs.

London Drugs was not able to meet with all the candidates, but did try to sit down with as many as could fit them into their schedules, according to Powell. During those meetings Powell said many candidates were openly in favour of London Drugs, and many were also surprised to learn that proposed site has already been rezoned.

In 2002, Larco Investments Limited applied for a rezoning to expand the uses for the Tourist Accommodation Eight zoning to allow a movie theatre, a restaurant, a nightclub, and office and storage space. Council approved that zoning with the covenant that at least 50 per cent of the lot be used for indoor recreation and the movie theatre, plus an additional 3,000 square feet for indoor recreation.

Powell believes the movie theatre and arcade currently in the site fulfill most of the 50 per cent requirement for indoor recreation. They feel the issue is being misrepresented during the election because London Drugs is not looking to convert zoned indoor recreation space into retail space, but rather to convert space that has been zoned for several permitted uses, including restaurants, entertainment, offices and storage.

"There are several different issues here. Let’s say that the zoning was in place, the indoor recreation aspect has not been a popular issue for users over a number of years, so we have to ask is it the right and best use of the facility," he said. "Complementing that is that council… and some present council members felt the same when they signed a significant portion aside from indoor reaction.

"There is more to it than what some people are suggesting."

According to Powell, Larco provided London Drugs with paperwork that suggests that the property London Drugs is looking at, about 14,000 square feet of the 44,000 square feet in Strata Lot 241, is not part of the indoor recreation zoning.

According to municipal planner Mike Kirkegaard, who worked on Larco’s rezoning application, the original intent for the property remains indoor recreation. The municipality allowed the space to be rezoned to allow the movie theatre, and to address an application for a nightclub in the space by clarifying the permitted uses for the lot.

"The previous uses really stretched the interpretation of the previous zoning bylaws and covenants," he said. "They were able to consolidate some liquor licenses that had been approved many years prior, along with some restaurant licensing that wasn’t subject to municipal approval, to be able to pursue a nightclub down there, which was very different from the intent.

"So as part of the movie theatre rezoning, the municipality also sought to address the entertainment and restaurant uses, and a nightclub is considered an entertainment use. We established some strict requirements around those permitted uses… that favor the space being used for its intended purpose of indoor recreation."

For council and mayor candidates to be accurate on the issue, they should mention that the contested space is zoned for several uses, and not just for indoor recreation. However, none of those uses is retail.

Larco’s application to rezone the space to allow London Drugs is currently on hold while the municipality completes a retail strategy for the village. The municipality sent a letter to Larco advising them of the strategy, and that municipal staff would not support the London Drugs application until that study was complete.

Larco can still request that the municipality process the application without staff support, but have not responded to the letter to make their intentions known.

Kirkegaard estimates that the municipality’s retail study is four months away.

The study was launched after council called for a bylaw that would limit the size of retail spaces to 5,000 square feet. The London Drugs zoning application was submitted before the bylaw was proposed.


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