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Leaside residents upset over growing number of big box stores in area

About 300 people squeezed into a Leaside community centre Monday evening to express their frustration over the number of big box stores in the area.

A proposal to build a new SmartCentre on Wicksteed Avenue near Laird Avenue has galvanized residents who worry the development will increase traffic in the area and damage local businesses. The plans are currently under review by city staff.

Residents took turns speaking at a microphone at the front of the room, encouraging each other to contribute time and money to fight the proposed development and vowing to take their concerns as far as the Ontario Municipal Board.

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"I've heard a lot of people in this community say, there's nothing more we can do about this," former city councillor Jane Pitfield told the audience.

Ms. Pitfield said that she's part of Leaside Unite, a group of local residents who are opposed to big box retail stores in the neighbourhood. "Leaside has had a long string of successes," she said, adding that over the past 10 to 12 years, "We've won everything we have opposed."

Many audience members said they're worried the largest retail space in the new SmartCentre development – called the "anchor" store – could become a Walmart.

And the traffic a Walmart or similar-sized retail outlet will draw from outside of the community could clog roads and increase the risk of accidents, they said.

Pascoal D'Souza, from the City of Toronto's transportation services division, said the city is still analyzing how traffic would be affected by the proposed development.

Councillor John Parker, who attended the meeting, said he can't guarantee Walmart won't move into the new shopping centre. But he said the developer's proposal appears to meet the terms of the city's official plan.

Residents at the meeting heckled Councillor Parker and accused him of not supporting them vigorously enough in their fight against the proposed development.

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"The question before us isn't, does Leaside want more big box retail. The question is does this application pass the applicable tests under the official plan," he said before the meeting. "We are bound by the official plan."

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