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Strict heritage values don't jive in draft waterfront, downtown master plan: consultant

Stuart Jones, right, answers questions from the crowd assembled at the Hume Hotel Wednesday night for the open house on the draft Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan — Timothy Schafer photo.

By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily

Heritage in the downtown core will take a second seat to development if the new draft Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan is adopted by City council after the paper’s consultant revealed its details to over 70 people Wednesday evening at the Hume Hotel.

IBI Group associate director Stuart Jones — part of the Vancouver consultant firm the City hired for creating the plan — told the crowd assembled for the first evening presentation in the open house that the plan does not advocate designing new downtown buildings in a heritage manner.

“We’re not going to be able to re-create a 1902 heritage building. It’s very difficult,” he said. “We think it is better to create guidelines and standards for developers and say … ‘There is a pattern here.’”

That pattern is about blending new structures with old structures, said Jones, not making replicas of the original structures of Baker Street.

As a further rap against the City’s heritage commission — which had drawn the ire of business owners in the past over strict codes of allowable heritage detail, like building colour — Jones advised in the plan that the commission’s steadfastness was “not a place to wage battles.”

Having strict heritage colour codes, for example, was too subjective and it was missing the point that it is much more important to focus on some of the broader principles like street appeal and blending with existing structures.

“Right now, if you want to build a building in the downtown you have to do your best to make it a historic building. We’re saying, ‘No, do away with that,’” said Jones. “Rather, pay attention to these new regulations.”

Jones pointed to 10 major goals of the multi-point plan as key, including creating connections between the downtown and the waterfront, downtown residential infill, new construction in the downtown, public waterfront values and maintaining sightlines.

The plan won a few friends when Jones said a plethora of sticky notes placed on the eastern waterfront map during the two workshops they held on the draft convinced them of the merit of developing a park in that end of the city.

“We heard loud and clear … to create a park for Red Sands Beach. We agree. We think it is a good place for a city park,” said Jones. “It’s a different kind of park … it’s a more natural, organic park … and it creates a very nice bookend for your waterfront.”

The plan was in favour of keeping the streetcar, and even extending the line to the west end of the waterfront to Cottonwood Creek.

“As the waterfront builds out we would suggest bringing that alignment further on to the west,” he said.

Questions of a 25 per cent increase in population — suggested by infill in the downtown and up to 1,200 multi-family units on the waterfront — concerned some people.

But Jones and City senior planner Dave Wahn reminded people that the plan itself was not set in stone, nor would it happen right away, if at all. There was a lot of ground to cover before 2,500 people descended on the city.

“It’s important that this waterfront plan be a vision for the community for 25 odd years,” Jones said.


And the negotiating begins

Some of the connections from downtown to the waterfront suggested in the draft plan hinged on how cooperative CP Rail will be with the City and developers in releasing title to their largely unused waterfront rail lands.

Although the draft plan did not put anything directly on the CPR lands, said Jones, he did suggest negotiations with the rail company would have to be entertained at some time in order to develop the Railtown district and realize light industry (and jobs) in that area.

He noted the rail company gave them a letter “to go for it” on a design for the waterfront that included CPR lands, but they haven’t made any move beyond that, said Jones.

In the long term Jones suggested maybe CPR would come to the table and begin to develop their lands.


For more on the draft plan, click on Draft Sustainable Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan [PDF - 10.4 MB] to see the plan in detail.