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Back to the drawing board: change to Government Road development proposed

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
April 13th, 2023

The city’s biggest Railtown development is undergoing another change.

After beginning construction as a cannabis operation that offered various services for the growing industry three years ago, the 45 Government Road development ground to a halt a few months into construction.

Citing “changing financial times and a drop in the price of cannabis,” the owners at the time — Nelson Cannabis Collective — began envisioning the four-storey building not as a processing facility for cannabis, but a commercial, light industrial for-lease property.

Fast forward two years and the owners — now called the Gerrard Station Development Co. Inc. which includes Phil Pinfold, Pete Pinfold and Mitchell Scott — of the unfinished building are shuffling the deck again, looking to create a mix of commercial and residential use in order to comeplete the concrete construct.

Under an MU3 zone — that is specific to the Railtown neighbourhood — the owners’ tentative plan is for the building to be finished in a way to accommodate an occupancy of 70 per cent residential (up to 24 units) and 30 per cent commercial, with the option to create tourist accommodation as well.

“It is a bit uncommon to … rezone at this point in the construction process, but it is what it is,” said City director of Development Services and Climate Leadership, Sebastien Arcand, in his report to city council.

According to the applicant, attracting uses that would fit within the confines of the MU4 zone and within the constraints of the existing building has not been successful.

“The MU3 zone would allow greater flexibility for the land owner and help with attracting various tenants,” said Arcand.

From a land use perspective, the major difference between the zones is that the MU3 allows for “multi-unit residential” as a main use as well as allows for “professional offices.”

Arcand said the City was of the opinion to bring it to an MU3 zone was generally consistent with the Railtown plan and the Official Community Plan.

“And it will hopefully get this building to the finishing line,” said Arcand. “It does have the potential to kick start this Railtown plan as a mixed-use, residential and commercial neighbourhood a few minutes’ walk from downtown.”

The MU3 use is not specifically permitted and would need to be added as a specific permitted use for this property only, noted Arcand. However, the current site would require 65 parking stalls if the building was fully occupied as proposed, but the existing site only provides for 53 parking stalls.

As a solution, the owners requested that the subject property be included in the Downtown Parking Area, allowing a 50 per cent reduction in the parking requirement if the building includes a mix of residential and commercial, with some tourist accommodation.

The idea of including tourist accommodation — short-term rental — in the development did not sit well with Coun. Jesse Woodward.

“I was a little bit nervous because of the number of changes that have already happened to this building, and what concerns me is that the applicant is saying ‘We are going to be doing this and if that doesn’t work out, we are going to do this,’” he said. “It makes me feel a little bit unsure of the whole situation. I really feel we need rental stock, absolutely, I’m just not sure we need more short-term rental stock.”

Arcand said there was uncertainty about what the project would actually end up being.

“I think the applicant’s strategy is to keep as many doors open as possible; they’ve been out talking to the community to see what would make this project work,” he said, adding that the ownership group was not sure if it was going to tourist accommodation.

“Ultimately, flexibility is key … and he is trying to get the building completed, which is his rationale,” Arcand explained. “But what the project now means in terms of finishing the project, kick starting Railtown, I think flexibility in use really does a lot … and I think getting this building up and finished and occupied is what needs to happen.”

An amendment was proposed to remove tourist accommodation from the proposal, but it met with some resistance from other councillors and it was defeated.

The resolution to change the zoning on the property carried and a public hearing will now have to be held before final reading and adoption of the bylaw.

Site contamination

The Ministry of Environment issued a Certificate of Compliance (COC) for the subject property in May 2016.

The COC confirmed that the site was satisfactorily remediated to meet applicable contaminated sites regulation remediation standards and hazardous waste regulation standards, on the following conditions, which are all met by the present application:

• new buildings on site must be slab-on-grade construction;

• no fruit or nut-bearing trees are to be established;

• structures or facilities that would attract children (i.e. playgrounds) must not be constructed; and

• groundwater must not be used for drinking.

Given the new proposal, which will likely include residential, the applicant retained an environmental consultant to conduct a human health and ecological risk evaluation.

Source: City council agenda, April 11

Categories: General

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