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City will re-do public hearing for huge development in downtown Nanaimo

Staff report on public consultation triggers rescinding of bylaw reading
An artist’s rendering of proposed redevelopment of the old Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel site on Comox Road, Terminal Avenue and Mill Street. (D’Ambrosio Architecture and Urbanism image)

City council has taken the unusual step of rescinding the third readings of two rezoning bylaws related to a major development application in Nanaimo’s downtown.

A re-zoning application for the former Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel – where there are plans for two highrises, six other residential buildings, a hotel and a conference centre – needs to revert to the public hearing stage.

At a meeting Feb. 27, Dale Lindsay, general manager of development services, presented a report requested by council in an in-camera meeting Feb. 6, regarding public consultation for the re-zoning application for 444, 450 and 500 Comox Rd., 55 Mill St., and 1 Terminal Ave.

The re-zoning application requested changing those properties from medium density residential and gateway to a comprehensive development district zone, with an amendment to allow for mixed-use development and subdivision. The re-zoning bylaws passed first and second readings Aug. 29, were put to a public hearing Sept. 29, and passed third reading Oct. 24.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo begins re-zoning process for huge Howard Johnson redevelopment plan

But the public consultation process happened when the city was transitioning to the new Reimagine Nanaimo city plan, which includes truth and reconciliation policies that weren’t written into the old city plan. A section of the new city plan directs the municipality to work and consult with and seek partnerships with First Nations.

“As this, in our opinion, could be constituted as new information for council … the best practice is to rescind third reading and go back to a public hearing,” Lindsay said at the meeting. “That gives everyone an opportunity to review this report, receive it, and then consider it and come forward at a future public hearing and make recommendations.”

According to the report, the city had fulfilled the policy’s objectives, but the staff review and report of the truth and reconciliation consultation is considered new information. After the close of a public hearing, council should not receive new information, be it from the public, city staff or the applicant.

“It’s a little bit convoluted because, if you actually look in the legislation, there’s nowhere it actually says this,” Lindsay told the News Bulletin. “It’s based on case law and how to properly conduct open public process.”

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said during the meeting that openness and transparency are crucial to good governance.

“For me, voting to support this is not based on the importance of one application versus another. It’s based on the value of process and the necessity to ensure fair process and to be seen [like] Caesar’s wife, to not only be above reproach, but to be seen to be above reproach,” he said.

Council voted to rescind third readings of both bylaws. Coun. Paul Manly did not attend the meeting and Coun. Hilary Eastmure had recused herself from the debate because she lives next to the properties in question.

Lindsay said staff is planning for a date for a new public hearing in April.

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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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