The public will have another chance to weigh in on the future uses for the city’s Greater Nanaimo Water District properties in September. CITY OF NANAIMO image

The public will have another chance to weigh in on the future uses for the city’s Greater Nanaimo Water District properties in September. CITY OF NANAIMO image

Nanaimo city council divided on water lands

Councillors defeat recommendation to preserve land as future park

Nanaimo council is divided about officially dedicating land next to Colliery Dam Park as green space, with at least two councillors wanting to consider a “sliver” of it for housing development.

Politicians defeated a recommendation by city staff in a tie vote during Monday’s council meeting, which would have formally preserved land set aside for future park and would have linked in to Colliery Dam Park in Nanaimo’s south end. Instead, the city will look at other development opportunities for a portion of that property and put it to public review along with the rest of the Greater Nanaimo Water District lands this fall.

Last year, the city began a public engagement process to map the future of 97 hectares of water district lands on Nanaimo Lakes Road.

On Monday, staff members recommended pulling the portion of the land north of the Nanaimo Parkway into the park system now, based on input from the public, stakeholders and staff. The rest of the land south of the parkway is proposed as a mix of park and rural resource, which can be considered for potential development or model forests in the future and was slated to go to a final public open house.

Richard Harding, city director of parks, recreation and environment, said the land proposed as park is the most serviceable, but has also been heavily used for many years as parkland.

It’s also designated as a future park in the official community plan to compensate for the land lost in Colliery Dam Park for a new reservoir, though it is not formally zoned or dedicated as such.

Coun. Jerry Hong said he understands council “should do this as park” but the logic in him questions why the city wouldn’t save the sliver on the east side of the trail that goes through the property, because of Harewood Mines Road. He said it seems to him if there’s already a road there, there’s already servicing, and to shave off a piece for housing makes a lot of sense because there’s not the site work compared to some of the other future proposals council is looking at. He agrees the majority should be park space but the “easy parts” should be carved off for organizations that want to build housing, like Habitat for Humanity, said Hong, who also suggested it as a prime location for micro homes.

Coun. Gord Fuller said if the properties were sold, the money could be put into the park in perpetuity for upkeep and that otherwise taxes will be raised “here, there and everywhere” just to maintain parks. He also pointed to the lands on the south side of the parkway, which he would like to see as a park.

“It’s a far bigger area, it has really cool trails, whereas the sliver has been logged, it’s not old growth forest,” he said.

Coun. Bill Bestwick supported the proposed park. If a sliver is taken, made into city-sized lots and density is created, he said it would diminish the value of the objective the city is trying to achieve with the continuity of Colliery Dam Park, adding he’d prefer not to see six-foot high cedar fences and berms created so people who use the trail aren’t disturbing residents along that narrow stretch.

Neither does he believe infill development opportunities are scarce.

“I don’t disagree that we need to pay attention to the housing crisis, if you will, and that could be a strategic plan that we undertake … but to compromise the preservation of any of the properties that we currently have that are as precious as one like this, I think that would be an opportunity lost,” he said.

Coun. Diane Brennan said micro, affordable or social housing needs to be situated close to amenities, transit and there needs to be a much better walkability factor. She said she agrees with Bestwick that there’s lots of infill opportunities and thinks council is better off to designate the land as park and look for opportunities for smaller housing developments, social and affordable housing in areas where people with reduced incomes are better able to access amenities.

Councillors Brennan, Bestwick and Bill Yoachim supported turning the land into park, while Mayor Bill McKay, Fuller and Hong were opposed. Council voted 4-2, with Bestwick and Yoachim opposed, to see staff look at other development opportunities for a portion of the proposed parkland and go to public review. Council unanimously agreed to lease negotiations with Nanaimo Search and Rescue to relocate to the old water district offices area.