Feedback sought on future of land

NANAIMO – Undeveloped former water district property has potential to be one of Nanaimo's largest parks.

This fall, residents will help decide the future for publicly owned land more than triple the size of the neighbouring Colliery Dam Park.

The City of Nanaimo will reach out to the public and stakeholders this month about a vision for 97 hectares of city property along Nanaimo Lakes Road.

The land, largely undeveloped, once belonged to the Greater Nanaimo Water District and has the potential to be among the ranks of Nanaimo’s largest parks, although the municipality also plans to consider non-park uses for the property. The property includes the addresses 801, 1150 and 1151 Nanaimo Lakes Rd.

Nanaimo city leaders unanimously agreed to a $12,000 public engagement process at a council meeting last week to look at park and recreation opportunities for the land.

There was discussion about Nanaimo Search and Rescue’s interest in re-locating to the site, but Tracy Samra, city chief administrative officer, told councillors the recommendation from staff is “not to give priority to search and rescue above all of the citizens of Nanaimo” and council has commitments to consult with the community about any use of the land parcels.

Council’s decision on public engagement revives a three-step process civic leaders initially agreed to in 2012 for a review, public process and final report.

The work stalled and never made it past the review phase and information collected on the archaeological potential and biophysical profile was presented publicly for the first time last week.

It shows there’s high-value habitat on the site, including a blue-listed Townsend big-ear bat, as well as archaeological potential on the property, such as rock art and buried cultural resources. Park development would have a low likelihood of impacting those cultural resources.

The city now plans to use the information to look at where on the property non-park uses could go, and will also kick start talks with the public about what should be done with the property. It will also speak with stakeholder groups, such as Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club and Vancouver Island University.

Rob Lawrance, acting parks and open space planner, said it’s about connecting with community groups and stakeholders with an interest in the lands and getting a better sense of the possibilities for community partnerships or uses.

Vancouver Island University’s forestry program, for example, has suggested an opportunity to create a model forest project area. There would also be open houses for the public.

“So opportunities for anybody in the community to come and learn more of what we know about the property … have a better sense of what’s there and tell us what they think are some good opportunities to consider for the park itself,” said Lawrance.

Consultation would be completed in the new year.