Eight-property land swap will take two years

A major land exchange that will see eight properties swapped between the city and Nanaimo school district was approved in principle Monday night by city council.

The school board has also agreed in principle to the deal, and both parties will now enter a public process to begin the exchange that could take just under two years to complete.

Ted Swabey, director of community safety and development, said some properties are more complicated than others with respect to the official community plan, zoning, road designations and surveying. In at least one case, an alternate approval process will need to be exercised for public approval to dispose of designated park land.

“We’ll be doing this in phases, beginning with the simpler properties that we expect to complete by Sept. 30, 2013, and the second more complicated phase should be done by Dec. 31, 2014,” said Swabey. “Keeping in mind that this is an all or nothing type of exchange.”

The school board approached the city last year to discuss the idea of trading properties that would mutually benefit both parties after reviewing its asset management plan. Properties scheduled to go from city ownership to the school board include 421 Franklyn St. (Quennell Square), 260 Irwin St. (former Princess Royal school), 400 Campbell St. (Pauline Haarer school) and 140 View St. (Bayview elementary).

Properties to be transferred to the city include 502 Howard Ave. (Harewood Field), 2249 Northfield Rd. (Northfield school), 6780 Dickinson Rd. (Pioneer Park), and 5101 Rutherford Rd., which includes 5.4 hectares of park behind Oliver Woods Recreation Centre.

Pauline Haarer, which is dedicated parkland, will be one of the more difficult parcels to transfer, said Swabey.

“It’s very complicated and we’ll start in the near future to unravel it,” he said.

It will require an alternate approval process to remove it from the city’s park inventory, which will be made up for by adding Pioneer Forest as dedicated park, a move that the Friends of Pioneer Forest agree with.

“We applaud this move to dedicate Pioneer Forest as a park,” said John Merriman, a director of Friends of Pioneer Forest, which formed late last year when residents felt there was uncertainty over its future as a forest. “Our environment committee is proposing an enhancement program that will see our volunteers removing underbrush and other fire hazards as well as invasive plants. Long term, we’ll be monitoring its use as a city park.”

Phase 1 transfers include Quennell Square and Princess Royal to the school board and Harewood Field and Northfield school to the city for what Swabey called “quick wins.”

Harewood Field will provide a much-needed park in an area of the city that is currently without a city-owned recreation field while the Northfield school site has future resale potential.

Part of the deal for the 5101 Rutherford Rd. property will require  $1 million to build road frontage from Turner Road to the edge of the property – $400,000 of which will be supplied by a developer which owns an adjacent property. The balance is expected to come from development cost charges once the property is developed.

The remaining properties will be swapped by the end of Phase 2.

Nanaimo mayor John Ruttan said deal will be positive for both the city and school board.

“It’s an incredibly good package we’re offering to them and they to us,” said Ruttan. “It solves an awful lot of problems for both sides.”

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