Residents and business owners of Kensington Market have expressed strong opposition to RioCan’s plans to build a three-storey retail complex just west of the market’s core. Specifically, community members object to Walmart, the centre-piece of the new retail complex.
The proposed 12,000 square metre building will include an underground parking lot, individual retail units on the ground floor, and a Walmart occupying the second and third floors. It will be located at the former Kromer Radio space at the corner of Bathurst Street and Nassau Street. The site is close to Kensington Market, Little Italy, and Chinatown, all neighbourhoods popular among U of T students as places to live and visit. The neighbourhoods are known for and rely on small, independent, and often family-owned businesses that, opponents suggest, will struggle with a Walmart in the vicinity. The proposal relies on the City of Toronto changing the zoning of the area. If the City does not approve, the decision could be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Since news of RioCan’s proposal spread, opposition towards the plan has been heard from far and wide. A petition started earlier this week by Friends of Kensington, a group dedicated to preserving the heritage of Kensington Market, has garnered the attention of Torontonians, including many U of T students who have shared the petition through social media. As of Sunday afternoon, the petition has reached over 75,000 signatures on its way a 150,000 signature target. Dominique Russell, a community member who initiated the petition, expressed her indignation towards the idea of a corporation in one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods in a phone interview with The Varsity. “Walmart is the worst example of a big-chain store that takes small businesses away from neighbourhoods,” she said. She went on to argue that its presence would be “entirely inappropriate to the area.”
At a public meeting on Thursday night at College Street United Church, Kensington residents and business owners gathered to express their outrage. RioCan’s legal representative, Mark Noskiewicz, introduced the proposal. He argued that the building is an “appropriate and desirable response” to the growth of Toronto, which was met with yells and jeers from the crowd.
Before the public took to the floor, Trinity-Spadina Councillor Adam Vaughn voiced his stance against RioCan’s plans, saying that: “the city will rise up to protect Kensington Market.” Vaughn’s statement appeared justified by the public reaction at the meeting. Despite the rain, the venue was packed with community members and media, some has to be turned away due to over-capacity. Despite RioCan’s statement that, according to the research conducted by city planners, there would be no negative effects on local traffic or on the businesses of neighbouring shopping districts, many in the crowd seemed convinced. Community members shared their concerns about the economic and social effect it would have on independent businesses and residents in the area and concerns about air quality and noise control. Some also argued that a Walmart in the vicinity would be bad for students because it might result in higher rents, as well as increased traffic in the area, which will affect the already busy Bathurst streetcars.
This is not the first time that Kensington Market has objected to a large corporation in the area. Earlier this year, a separate plan to build a Loblaws on College St met with widespread concern from residents. Russell stated that the reaction to RioCan has been much larger. “While Loblaws will have an affect on Kensington, RioCan’s proposal will affect a much larger area…and there is a concern that if a developer can change a neighbourhood, they have more say than the community.”
Many U of T students are similarly concerned. Noelle Machado expressed a common opinion on social media saying: “It would be a pity to ruin the neighbourhood with a generic big-box retailer.” Another student, Shiaoshaio Chen, treasures the idea of the market: “Kensington Market has been a student hub where we felt at home — just as chaotic, and beautiful as everyone there.”
A second public meeting will be held on July 9 at City Hall at 7 pm, where members of the public are invited to express any concerns or opinions.