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Apartment building approved on slope above Nanaimo’s Millstone River

Council votes in favour of revised application after the previous council rejected a prior proposal
City council has approved a development application for a new apartment building on Bradley Street. (Raymond de Beeld Architect Inc. image)

City council has given the nod to a development permit application for a residential development close to Bowen Park and the Millstone River.

The application, submitted by Raymond de Beeld Architect Inc. on behalf of 591 Bradley Homes Ltd., to permit a 55-unit apartment building at 591 Bradley St., was presented to council Monday, Feb. 27.

A previous development application was approved in 2019, but expired in 2021 and a renewal application made that year was denied over environmental concerns about the proposed development’s proximity to the Millstone from the steep bank above the river.

The new application is for a downsized structure on a development site that has smaller footprint than the previously rejected application. The development application included a riparian setback variance from 30 metres to zero metres.

“There’s always a bit of a conflict between the city requirements for watercourse setbacks and what the province actually requires and in most cases they overlap pretty seamlessly, but the city’s bylaw, since it was adopted in the early ’90s, has always required setbacks to be measured from atop a bank, ” said Dale Lindsay, general manager of development services and deputy CAO.

Where there is a small creek, Lindsay continued, the difference between a tall bank and the natural boundary of a river is often small, but in the case of the Millstone River below the proposed development site, there is a wide valley and a large distance between the river boundary and the top of the bank at Bradley Street.

“The proposed development is well outside the setback established by the province,” Lindsay said.

The architect gave a slide presentation of the revisions to the project to council.

“Basically, what we’ve done is we’ve compacted the building and compressed it and removed a few units and removed a storey on the bottom and pushed the building up onto what is like a flat platform, so it’s not like a steep slope right away,” de Beeld said.

Paul Chapman, executive director of Nanaimo and Area Land Trust, spoke about the importance of riparian setbacks to maintain healthy habitat for fish and other wildlife and for climate change resiliency, but did not address the development proposal directly.

“When you approve development in a riparian area, you degrade the natural commons and lower our ecological ceiling. This limits our options and effectiveness in achieving community resiliency in the face of climate change…” he said. “The decision you make this evening will have an impact for the next 50 to 80 years and beyond and this decision is a climate change decision.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe voted against the project in 2021, but supported the application this time.

“I am impressed with the changes that have been made,” he said. “The project is smaller. I like the layout of it, so I am happy to support it this time around.”

Coun. Ben Geselbracht commended the architect and said he thought the new application represented a “definite improvement,” but remained against the project.

“When you go down and look at the site and you see the townhouses that were put in and how steep that slope is and the fill that’s been put in there, that is creating an erosion risk and it does impact an already overdeveloped urban … river that has been severely compromised through the decades of development around it,” he said.

Council approved the application with Geselbracht opposed and Coun. Paul Manly absent.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo city councillors deny permit for apartment complex they approved 2 years ago

READ ALSO: Nanaimo council approves 59-unit apartment building above Millstone River

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Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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