The City of Nanaimo is considering a development permit application for an 87-unit apartment building at 550 Brechin Rd. (Thuja Architecture Studio Ltd. image)

Developer proposes apartment building overlooking Departure Bay ferry terminal

City of Nanaimo receives development permit application for 87-unit building at 550 Brechin Rd.

Departure Bay ferry terminal could be getting new neighbours if the city issues a development permit for a proposed apartment building on Brechin Road that is in the design stages.

The City of Nanaimo’s design advisory panel reviewed last month a development permit application from WestUrban Developments Ltd. for an 87-unit building at 550 Brechin Rd., and asked for changes to the design.

The applicant’s proposal is for a four-storey building, angled to face both Brechin Road and Beach Drive, with 44 one-bedroom units, 40 two-bedroom units and three studio apartments.

Tanis Schulte, architect with Thuja Architecture, noted in a letter to the city that “the project will create a striking feature at the marine gateway of Nanaimo” and that the style will embody “West Coast architecture.” She said the property’s location on the edge of a residential neighbourhood is an ideal placement for a transition between residential and marine mixed-use zones.

“A medium-density building in this location will help provide a positive visual landmark and increase population base likely to support local businesses,” Schulte wrote.

With the property subject to steep-slope guidelines, the developer is proposing a series of retaining walls that maintain hill contours, prevent erosion and control storm water flow. Only minor variances to building height and retaining wall height are being proposed at the development permit application stage.

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Wanda Thompson, member of the Brechin Hill Community Association, said in an e-mail that there are differing opinions as to the project itself, but there is consensus that the city has a responsibility to ensure infrastructure in the neighbourhood appropriately supports the development. Her association has concerns about safety on Beach Drive and elsewhere.

“Pedestrian and road safety deficiencies are numerous in the area, including no sidewalks/deficient sidewalks/gaps in sidewalks, and no bike lanes on almost all streets, and extremely dangerous crosswalks on Brechin and Stewart roads,” she said. “These deficiencies will be exacerbated by increased traffic and population from this development.”

Thompson said in the association’s view, the building design doesn’t meet criteria laid out in the Newcastle and Brechin Neighbourhood Plan, “including issues such as massing, setbacks and form and character in order to blend with the existing neighbourhood.”

A staff report commented on the site and building design and asked that the applicant “consider opportunities to break the long horizontal roofline and step the building down with the existing terrain.” Staff also suggested that the applicant “look at reducing vertical massing” and “reduce the scale of the main entry to better respect the lower density characteristics of the surrounding neighbourhood.”

Design advisory panel did not accept the designs as presented and so the project will come back to that table.

“There is very clear language in many of the neighbourhood plans in terms of what the community and what council are looking for and what staff are likely to recommend support,” said Lainya Rowett, city manager of current planning.

She said staff has referred the project to various city departments and other potentially impacted bodies – the ministry of transportation and infrastructure, for example – and will forward any comments along with design advisory panel’s recommendations to the applicant in a comprehensive letter. The applicant would then be expected to address any recommendations and issues before the project advances to the council table.

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