Council backtracks on Linley Valley funding exploration

NANAIMO – Cost of land simply too much for taxpayers while development will contribute to local economy.

Nanaimo council beat a hasty retreat on asking city staff to explore funding possibilities to purchase Linley Valley West.

The original motion, put forward by Coun. Bill Bestwick, passed 8-1 on Feb. 27, with Coun. Ted Greves voting against.

On Monday, Coun. Bill McKay asked for reconsideration of the motion, which subsequently failed after a 7-2 vote.

The move left supporters of preserving Linley Valley West wondering what changed.

“It was a very interesting about-face,” said Jennifer O’Rourke, spokeswoman for Team Linley Valley West, a group of citizens dedicated to keeping as much of the 162 hectares of marshland, coastal Douglas fir forest, beaver ponds and wildlife habitat preserved from development as possible.

“I found it interesting that when he introduced the motion, Coun. McKay mentioned that new information had come to light, but nobody mentioned what that new information was. In other topics, council is so careful to make sure the viewing public knows what issues are about … but not for this.”

Linley Valley West is divided into four parcels of land, zoned for residential development, with three ownership groups holding the titles.

The value of the land is estimated at more than $6 million.

Norman Blattgerste of Mount Benson Developments, owner of 73 hectares of Linley Valley West, said Nanaimo has a number of green spaces for residents to enjoy, including Bowen and Beban parks, Westwood Lake Park, Morrell Nature Sanctuary, Neck Point Park, Linley Valley East, and Newcastle Island, among others.

He added that Nanaimo is experiencing extensive growth in the real estate sector, and developing Linley Valley West would be an economic boon for the city while working within the Official Community Plan.

“The section of the valley set aside for development contributes about $8 million in development cost charges, and the perpetual tax base will generate about $1.6 million annually,” said Blattgerste. “Labour-related wages involved in the building out of the area is estimated at $42 million. The construction industry employs about 5,000 people in Nanaimo, and accounts for $250 million in wages every year.”

That potential income and economic spinoff, compared to the extensive cost for the city to purchase the land, changed council’s approach.

“We’re simply not able to spend millions and millions of dollars no matter how nice the property is,” said Mayor John Ruttan. “People keep saying cut the budget and reduce the taxes and all these good things but you know, you can’t suck and blow at the same time …  and the OCP has clearly identified the Linley Valley for development”

Coun. Diana Johnstone, chairwoman of the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission, said purchasing Linley Valley is not a priority for the city and it was not budgeted.

Coun. Jim Kipp, who voted to continue searching for ways to preserve the valley, said moving ahead with the original motion could serve as a learning tool for future.

“I think some of us at the table are confused about how land acquisition works, so I believe researching and doing due diligence is part of this process. We can learn from it,” he said.

Coun. Diane Brennan said discussing the potential for land acquisition in public in the first place was a mistake.

O’Rourke said she’s disappointed council gave up on the issue, especially before exploring potential funders and other avenues, such as covenants, that could preserve the land’s ecosystem.

“We’re not giving up yet,” she said.

Members of Team Linley Valley West and Blattgerste have met informally to discuss their interests in the property. O’Rourke said the conversations have been “positive and productive.”

Both parties have walked Linley Valley West together, with Blattgerste identifying potential sites that could be developed and others that would be preserved.

“We hope to talk to the other land owners as well,” said O’Rourke.