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Nelson council passes compromise bylaw variances for Nelson Landing

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
March 25th, 2014

Nelson City Council passed a re-thought version of the contentious Nelson Landing building bylaw variance proposal Monday night, making concessions on issues of parking and sidewalks.

The concessions were to citizens who, over the past few weeks, deluged council with letters and emails, which in turn prompted two public open houses, one organized by council and the other by the developer, Storm Mountain Development.

The fact that a special council meeting was called Monday night solely for the purpose of dealing with the variances reflects the priority council places on getting developments like Nelson Landing moving, because of tax revenues which Nelson “desperately needs,” according to Mayor John Dooley.

The company plans to build about 200 residential units on a section of waterfront land on the old Kootenay Forest Products site. In the process it will donate about 30% of its land back to the city for the waterfront pathway, Red Sands beach, and other green space.

This bylaw variance issue concerns the first eight units, to be built this year on the 1200 block Sproat Drive.

Sidewalks

The originally proposed variance would have exempted the company from building a sidewalk on Sproat Drive in front of the 8-plex. The company’s argument was that the street was too narrow for that, and their planned waterfront pathway would compensate for the lack of a sidewalk, (even though the pathway would be narrower than the original plan, not paved, and probably not cleared in the winter). City planning staff, before the email protest and the open houses, had supported this no-sidewalk variance.

Not having a sidewalk was contentious with the public because it seemed to limit the opportunity to walk to the waterfront or to Red Sands, especially considering the company’s apparent downgrading of the waterfront pathway. Not having a sidewalk struck many people as a cars-over-people approach to development.

On Monday night, city planning staff backtracked and council passed a requirement that a legal covenant be placed against the property that would allow the city to require, at any time in the future, a sidewalk to be constructed, at the developer’s expense, in the 1200 block Sproat Drive and also a connecting sidewalk between Sproat Drive and Seventh Street.

The covenant buys council time to see what the (now non-existent) streets leading into and out of the 1200 Sproat Drive will look like in the future, while satisfying a council priority of allowing the company to get started on construction this year.

But around the council table there was disagreement about the sidewalk. Councillor Adams questioned the need for a sidewalk at all and argued that the waterfront pathway would be sufficient. Councillor Robin Cherbo advocated for simply requiring a sidewalk now, with Mayor Dooley supporting him.

“In my opinion, this covenant is just passing the buck to the next council,” Dooley said.

Support for the covenant, which came from Councillors Kozak, Macdonald, Batycki and Kiss, was summarized by Councillor Kiss.

“I have many times in the past,” she said, “seen sidewalks built to nowhere from nowhere and eventually removed, cut through, adjusted, as developments proceeded and I think this provides all the security we need for a sidewalk as this development progresses and I really reluctant to force, based on a single 8-plex, the construction of a long length of sidewalk. I would prefer to retain the controllability over that for the future.”

Councillor Macdonald said she was swayed by the public comments about the sidewalk.

“The side walk was one we heard loud and clear and that certainly persuaded me that the waterfront pathway might be a good substitute for a sidewalk maybe if we were in California, but not in wind and ice and snow along the waterfront, and I completely understand now that we need something away from the waterfront. So thank you for pointing this out.”

Parking

The new version of the variances will require the company to provide five public parking spaces in a lot just past the first-phase 8-plex. This was a response to a public concern that there would not be enough on-street parking.

The parking lot would be temporary and parking requirements will be revisited if and when the company builds beyond the 8-plex.

Public comment after the meeting

About 30 members of the public attended the meeting, mostly residents of the adjacent neighbourhoods of John’s Walk, Amber Bay, and The Graine. After the decision, there seemed to be a mood of quiet resignation.

“I am disappointed with the narrow roadway,” Dave Havemann told The Nelson Daily. “We have had close calls at the Graine with people backing out of driveways. That was glossed over. This narrow road is going to be a bottleneck for future development.”

Mary Baker also lives at The Graine. “I feel the sidewalk is extremely important to us. I object to not having a sidewalk installed now,” she said.

Dave Sowiak was one of the developers involved in The Graine, Amber Bay, and Silver Bay. He thinks Storm Mountain got preferential treatment with an unusually large package of variance proposals.

“If you are trying to make the town so it is open for developers to come and see this is a fair place to do business, you have to show that the playing field is even for everybody, and when a large package of variances gets passed like this it shows that some developers are treated differently.”

Macdonald: a donation of land from the developer in exchange for variances

“There is going to be a multi use pathway built for  the city by the developer,” said Councillor Macdonald during the meeting, “an expensive and attractive project, of much higher quality than the one built along Johns Walk, and it will benefit residents and visitors. This means the city can control the foreshore and have owner rights.

“The developer is prepared to donate 30% of the property to the city for parkland including Red Sands beach,” Macdonald continued. “Maybe there is not as much green space between those 8-plexes as we might want, but at the same time we are getting a very large gift from the developer in Red Sands Beach and the little forested point just before it.  So staff have been attentive: ‘OK we will give the developer variances, what are we getting out of it for the city?’”

Macdonald: the official community plan, climate change, and a “village feel”

Councillor Macdonald told council that the development and the variances are in line with the Official Community Plan.

“It is mixed use, compact, multi unit, high density residential,” she said. “And the other critical principle is that public waterfront access is maintained.”

Macdonald said council needs to think about climate and designing for a low carbon future, “and this means designing for people, not for cars. It means not having big wide roads that encourage more traffic, making sure it is safe and easy for people to be active, and it means building densely because it makes sense for energy use.

“The narrowness of the road is something that some people found difficult to accept partly because of the lack of parking, but I think the narrow road will encourage traffic calming. It will make people slow down. This is to be a shared road where people are walking and riding bikes. It will help to create more of a village feel.”

 

The motion to accept the variances with the covenant and the extra parking lot was passed, with only Councillor Cherbo voting against it.

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