Plans for a new Costco store in Kelowna are drawing opposition from nearby residents concerned about traffic congestion and reduced property values.
Several hundred people attended an information meeting hosted Tuesday evening by the company on its proposed relocation.
“I’d say there was overwhelming non-support expressed for the site where Costco wants to build its new store,” Ron Ready, one of those who attended the meeting, said Wednesday.
“People have a large number of legitimate concerns, but they’re also very worried the city will just rubber-stamp this and push it through anyway, because it’s Costco,” said Ready, a former City of Kelowna employee who worked for 30 years in the development services division.
But city officials say Costco’s relocation plan will be subject to the same sort of scrutiny that would accompany any large development.
“City staff have been working with Costco for some time on their relocation plans,” Derek Edstrom, a city director, said last month. “We’re excited to see this proposal come forward, but it will still be subject to the same kind of review that would apply to any large-scale development project.”
Costco hopes to move from its current site at the corner of Highway 97 and Highway 33 to a seven-hectare vacant property bounded by Leckie Road, Baron Road and Springfield Road. The company says it has outgrown its current location and plans to build a 158,000-square-foot store, about 20% larger than the existing building. A gas bar is also planned.
The proposed site is zoned as farmland, and its future use is designated under the official community plan as being for medium- and high-density residential.
As the city encourages developers to do, Costco mailed out invitations to owners of properties surrounding the relocation site and invited them to the information meeting at the Ramada hotel. It ran from 4 to 7 p.m.
Ready, who was there for more than two hours, estimates about 300 people attended.
There was no formal presentation, just a display of information panels with Costco representatives on hand to answer questions.
“Whenever people brought up traffic concerns, which they did over and over again, Costco’s people just said, ‘Oh, we don’t think traffic will be a problem,’” Ready said.
There are about 1,000 homes in highrises, condos and townhouse projects within a few hundred metres of Costco’s proposed relocation site, Ready estimates. He says he’s talked with representatives of many of the 18 strata councils in the area, and he expects a unified letter of opposition will be sent to the city in advance of the public hearing that must be held before the site can be rezoned to accommodate Costco’s move. The matter will likely reach council early next year.
Edstrom told The Daily Courier in an email on Wednesday that he understood just over 150 people attended the open house and he believed there was “good dialogue between Costco and the neighbours.”
“Public information sessions are an important part of our development process as a means for the proponent and community to discuss concerns and how they can be mitigated,” he said.
Edstrom said traffic concerns raised at the open house will be reviewed by Costco and the city as part of the application process.
“The application will move forward through the regular development application process with recommendations of how to address site servicing.”
The future of Costco became something of an issue in last fall’s municipal election. Mayoral challenger Tom Dyas said he’d heard the company was planning to move to the Westside because of difficulty in securing a new Kelowna location.
Mayor Colin Basran responded that the city had been working with Costco to identify a site for a new store.
“To say they’re somehow being run out of town, or not given a warm welcome at City Hall, that’s just not true,” Basran said at the time. “We value Costco’s economic contribution to Kelowna.”
Last year, Costco paid the city $389,617.83 in property taxes. The company’s plan to add a gas bar to its new Kelowna site is welcomed by those who feel drivers have long been gouged at the pumps. Petroleum analyst Dan McTeague believes the per-litre cost of regular gas will drop between five and 10 cents with Costco’s discount gas bar forcing down all prices.
For his part, Ready also would like to see Costco stay in Kelowna, but he thinks a better relocation site would be at the city’s airport industrial park.
“It has good access, no homes that are too close and is a better location in every respect,” he says.
City officials say operators of big-box stores have expressed interest in the airport industrial park. But they say such large retailers, which require big parking lots, are not a good fit for an area intended to serve mainly industrial and aerospace purposes.
After Costco submitted its relocation plan to the city in mid-September, The Daily Courier sent the Washington state-based company an email asking for more information about the project. There was no response.