Linley Valley application before city staff

NANAIMO – Bylaw authorizes city general manager to approve development application.

Having set policy and regulations, city council will have little more to do in the approval of a development permit application for a high-profile north Nanaimo property.

The city received the application from Mount Benson Developments Inc. to construct a 353-unit residential subdivision in six phases on 32.9 hectares of land in the Linley Valley west area.

The property is designated ‘neighbourhood’ under the Official Community Plan and is zoned R10 steep slope residential, which allows residential development of up to 16 units per hectare. The densities proposed in the application are well below what is permitted.

The proposed development will consist of a mixture of single and multiple family units and proposes to dedicate more than 45 per cent of the property as parkland to preserve wetlands, the existing trail network, and areas of environmentally sensitivity located on the site.

As the proposal meets the city’s development permit guidelines for steep slope and park dedication, and as there are no variances associated with the application, it falls within Delegation Bylaw 7031 and can be approved by Ted Swabey, city general manager of community safety and development, and not council. About two-thirds of development permits go through the delegation bylaw. Only about one-third show up in front of council, usually when a developer is requesting a larger variance than what the bylaw permits.

Swabey said the process is not unusual and is just moving forward.

“This process has been in place for a number of years,” he said. “Council played a major role in creating the policies and regulations in the [Official Community Plan] and the zoning, this developer has come forward and I’m implementing council’s  policies.”

Jennifer O’Rourke, board member of Team Save Linley Valley West Society, a group determined to save the land from development, said the delegation bylaw is routine in municipalities where council assigns staff decision-making authority.

“However, we did a little bit of research, and the delegation bylaw that’s Nanaimo’s gives significantly more authority to staff than say Penticton or Victoria,” she said. “Typically, these delegation bylaws have a short list of what staff can do. What Nanaimo’s has is a short list of what staff can’t do.”

She said it’s a question of what’s appropriate to assign to staff.

“Obviously you want staff’s help because they have expertise in all sorts of areas. But on the other hand, whose city is it?” she asked. “Council should set up things in such a way that any significant decision is their’s primarily with staff advice rather than the other way around.”

Mayor John Ruttan said council cannot make a decision on every single application received, though consideration should be given to those which are large.

“However, if the applicant is a knowledgeable developer, if he or she knows what the regulations are, comes down and deals with staff, identifies all the issues, and doesn’t need to get a variance, there’s no reason to  come before council,” he said.

O’Rourke said while a city-issued press release on the development gives the impression the battle is over, that’s far from the truth.

“It isn’t over for the 650 or so people who have signed the petition and we’re not giving up,” she said

The group plans to attend the city’s committee of the whole meeting Monday (April 15).

Ruttan said the property is properly zoned and the developer has been forthright and tried to co-operate surrounding any concerns.

“The city doesn’t have the millions it would take to buy it, and if the developer wants to meet all the guidelines plus dedicated 45 per cent of it for nothing to the city … I don’t know that it’s such a bad deal,” he said.