A proposed data centre on East Wellington Road is expected to proceed to the development stage after Nanaimo city council approved re-zoning.
At a meeting Monday, Oct. 24, council voted in favour of third reading of a bylaw to re-zone 2086 and 2090 East Wellington Rd. to high-tech industrial to accommodate a data centre west of the Nanaimo Parkway near East Wellington Road Park. According to a city staff report, the data centre would be used for the storage and operation of networked computers or telecommunications systems.
While the properties, totalling 2.3 hectares, had been zoned rural resource, they are designated light industrial in the current city plan and had also been earmarked as industrial land in the previous official community plan.
At a public hearing Sept. 29, nine people spoke in opposition to the project, citing primarily environmental and noise concerns, while two people spoke in favour.
The applicant, Townsite Planning, representing a numbered company, acknowledged at the hearing that the data centre will make some noise as the computers will generate heat and will need to be cooled with fans. The City of Nanaimo will require that the applicant present a noise abatement plan among other conditions of re-zoning.
The applicant has proposed a cash community amenity contribution to be split between the city’s housing legacy fund and parks improvements and staff noted that based on concepts, the contribution would be approximately $629,000. A conceptual plan presented by the applicant shows that the data centre would be constructed in phases as demand grows.
Council members who spoke at Monday’s meeting indicated that they believed the proposal conformed with anticipated land use in the area.
“This is an industrial area, it always was going to be an industrial area and this is an industrial project,” said Coun. Don Bonner.
Coun. Erin Hemmens agreed, saying that the land was never going to be used for food production, has been designated light industrial for years and neighbouring property owners are aware of that. Mayor Leonard Krog also felt the data centre fit with the land use anticipated by the official community plan.
“People who invest are entitled to have reasonable expectations met around appropriate land use. This happens to fall within that,” he said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said any concerns she has about the project can be addressed at the development permit stage. She said while some residents may not like data centres, they are needed and “we’re just going to have to face those facts.”
The only council member to vote in opposition to the project was Coun. Ben Geselbracht, who acknowledged that “there’s been a lot of concern in the community around this” for a range of reasons. He expressed amazement at “the growth and need of data centres around the world” and suggested it might make sense for them to be in B.C. with its comparatively clean energy. However, he added that he didn’t have enough information about the East Wellington Road project’s potential water usage.