Plans to reconstruct Ladysmith’s downtown Island Hotel are advancing to the public hearing stage.
Town of Ladysmith council, at a meeting Feb. 21, voted to send the proposal for 440 1st Avenue to the next stage of the development process.
The applicant wants to construct a five-storey apartment building with 20-22 housing units and two ground-floor commercial spaces on the site, retaining only the heritage brick facade from the existing building.
“The Island Hotel, known locally as ‘the Islander,’ has been part of Ladysmith’s downtown for over 120 years. Though it has provided the community with housing and various commercial enterprises, it has not experienced much care for its maintenance and is now in poor condition…” noted the application prepared by AYPQ Architecture. “The Island Hotel renovation and re-build looks to the future in its commitment to Ladysmith’s downtown livability and economic growth.”
The proposal includes significant zoning variances to density, height, and parking. The plan is for four on-site parking stalls, which is well short of the 26 stalls required by zoning but actually represents an increase in parking, as there is currently no off-street parking at the Islander.
Much of council’s discussion at last week’s meeting centred on an amenity that had been pitched publicly earlier in the development process but has since been removed from the proposal: a public corridor through the building connecting 1st Avenue to the alley behind it. Some councillors felt the removal of the corridor from the plans would limit access to 1st Avenue from under-utilized parking behind the Islander.
“If it’s not to be, it’s not to be. The project otherwise is excellent,” said Mayor Aaron Stone. “But I think that’s a huge letdown based on the expectation that was created.”
Some other councillors didn’t think the change to the plan should be a deal-breaker. Coun. Tricia McKay said parking would be an issue whether the Island Hotel was a residential building or a commercial building.
“Anything we use the building for, any future use of the building, is going to require parking that doesn’t exist. It’s an issue,” she said. “We have to deal with the global parking problem if we’re going to continue to bring in more life into the downtown.”
Some council members also felt the $10,000 community contribution was a small dollar figure considering the scale of the project. Architect Angela Quek asked council to keep in mind that the proponent was opting not to seek an exemption to the town’s renoviction bylaw, which may represent a financial impact of more than $100,000.
Coun. Marsh Stevens said he’s “super supportive” of the redevelopment of the Island Hotel, but he made a motion for staff to discuss some changes with the proponent, including the corridor, the roof design and the community contribution. His motion failed 4-3 with councillors McKay, Ray Gourlay, Amanda Jacobson and Duck Paterson opposed.
“I’m pretty happy with it as it is,” said Gourlay. “I think it’s a great trial run of our draft OCP. What we heard over the last couple years from our community, what they want for downtown, this proponent has conformed to that and it’s a great opportunity to try out this vision for 1st Avenue and see how it works.”
Council voted 4-3 to direct staff to enter a heritage revitalization agreement with the proponent, secure the community contribution and schedule a public hearing. Stone and councillors Stevens and Jeff Virtanen were opposed.