Nanaimoites voiced concerns about InSight Holdings’ Front Street Hilton Hotel proposal at a public hearing last Thursday.
While the hearing centred on zoning variance for the hotel, concerns were expressed about a lease for nearby Georgia Park. InSight is seeking to add amenities to the park, including a staircase to Nanaimo’s waterfront and a loading dock.
Grant Shaw, a Nanaimo resident, said he and his wife moved to the Harbour City a decade ago and one of the reasons was the abundance of parks. Shaw is in favour of developing 10 and 28 Front St., but not of leasing park space.
“What my wife and I are not in favour of is the leasing or renting of the 925 square metres, or close to 60 per cent of Georgia Park, for 60-years-plus term,” Shaw said, adding it would set a dangerous precedent for the future of the park.
He said Maffeo Sutton Park might have been turned into an industrial area in the ’70s had it not been for a concerned citizens’ committee.
The topic of the park lease going to referendum in November’s civic election was also broached by residents, including Gord Fuller, who said the proposed lease was the issue that should be coming first and not variance.
“How viable is this project if they don’t have access to the waterfront from the water side of the Hilton … there should be a referendum on the lease and it should be attached to the election,” said Fuller. “In the event it can’t be attached to the election, then the proponent should pay the cost to hold a referendum.”
InSight sought to increase the maximum allowable density to a floor area ratio of 12 and maximum allowable height by about 114 metres for the high-rise hotel. Nanaimo city council approved the variance by a count of 5-3.
Mayor John Ruttan and councillors Bill Bestwick, Bill McKay, George Anderson and Diana Johnstone voted for, while councillors Diane Brennan, Jim Kipp and Fred Pattje voted against.
Coun. Ted Greves left the hearing early, saying he wasn’t feeling well.
Ruttan said despite the variance approval, the process is still in its early stages.
“This is just the first step in a fairly long process but we’re trying to expedite it and certainly now that council support is there … I think we’ll just see how it goes from there,” he said.