Design process begins for rail yard

Portion of Wellcox rail yard scheduled to transfer to city on March 31.

The planning process for a key piece of downtown property recently purchased by the city will soon begin with the assistance of several key community groups.

Last November, the city entered into a purchase agreement with Canadian Pacific to purchase 10.8 hectares of the Wellcox Yard at 7 Port Dr. for $3.4 million. The property, long considered a key piece of Nanaimo’s downtown development puzzle, is scheduled to transfer into the city’s hands March 31.

On Monday, council directed staff to initiate the concept planning process for what is being called the South Downtown Waterfront Plan Project, and to approve the plan’s terms of reference.

“This will be the 30,000-foot view of potential land uses in the area,” said Andrew Tucker, the city’s director of planning. “I wouldn’t describe it as a detailed master plan as it’s too early in the planning process to achieve that level of detail.”

Groups invited to be part of the steering committee include Snuneymuxw First Nation, Nanaimo Port Authority, Island Corridor Foundation, Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, South End Community Association, Plan Nanaimo Advisory Committee, Vancouver Island University, and at-large community representatives. The Regional District of Nanaimo will also be at the table with a $2-million investment in the property that will include a long-awaited transit hub.

The primary goal at this point is to build a transit node at the site that will include regional transit, passenger rail, regional bus lines and possibly even a downtown Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver foot passenger ferry.

“We’ve got an opportunity here with the addition of this 25 acres that we’ll own and the other lands adjacent to it to make them really exciting people places,” said Coun. Bill McKay. “I’d really like to see us include a conversation with … our other stakeholders to really make this the jewel in our crown.”

Al Kenning, city manager, said it would be appropriate to also include assembly wharf lands as part of the discussion to ensure a “far-sighted approach.”

City staff recommended a preliminary planning stage due to several challenges, the first being the complexity of the property and its encumbrances and right of ways, as well as its multiple jurisdictions that includes city, Nanaimo Port Authority, provincial and First Nations.

The high level concept plan will also have to adhere to several plans adopted by city hall, including the 2002 Downtown Plan, 2008 Nanaimo Port Authority Land Use Plan, the purchase agreement with CP and the corporate strategic plan, which includes priorities such as waterfront enhancement, transportation strategies and community building partnerships.

Tucker said once a concept plan is developed, the public will be invited to provide input through a design charrette before the process moves into the master plan phase.