Artist rendering of Front Street near Port Way. (CITY OF NANAIMO IMAGE)

Nanaimo city council endorses south downtown waterfront draft plan

City plans to hold more public consultation sessions

A redevelopment plan for a chunk of undeveloped property in downtown Nanaimo has moved one step closer to reality.

Nanaimo city councillors endorsed a draft version of its Port Drive waterfront master plan during a committee of the whole meeting on Monday night.

The plan, which was unveiled last year, proposes a range of uses for a swath of undeveloped city-owned land along Front Street, Port Drive and Esplanade. The plan calls for a mixed-used precinct along Front Street and a residential precinct located closer to the water. Both precincts incorporate low and mid-rise buildings. There is also a proposed industrial precinct, which would be located closer to the Nanaimo Port Authority’s property, between a proposed Port Way extension road and the railway. A public waterfront walkway has also been included in the plan.

Coun. Jerry Hong said while he liked elements of the plan, he questioned the decision to include an industrial precinct on land that could designated as mixed-use or residential.

“The port authority is right there,” he said. “Why would we compete against them when people can actually use their use land because that is pretty much the only thing they can do with their land … why categorize it as industrial?”

Coun. Bill Yoachim expressed concerns about the lack of consultation with the Snuneymuxw First Nation during the creation of the draft master plan, adding that the Snuneymuxw’s input matters. Earlier on Monday, the Snuneymuxw had issued a press release stating that any action endorsing the plan by councillors would be “premature” as the land once was home to a village of theirs. The release also said any decisions on the future of the land cannot be made without their consent, citing a pre-confederation treaty.

“They are our neighbours and there is case law involved and the law is even stronger today than it was in 2013,” Yoachim said. “So, I am really challenged with the fact that we have done zero consultation on this.”

Yoachim explained that while he “loved” the draft plan, conversations with the Snuneymuxw must occur and their voice cannot be ignored.

“It’s a hard conversation but it is a real conservation … We can have the best draft in the world but it will go nowhere unless we include and do that process that has not happened to this day,” he said.

Other councillors also expressed concerns about a lack of discussion with the First Nation including Coun. Jim Kipp, who said large portions of the plan overlap the Snuneymuxw’s old village site.

“It’s a concern to me,” he said. “We know how much the public said the SFN was involved in the south downtown waterfront, but they weren’t and it was important that they were involved in every asset like the event centre and it is important that they are involved in this. So, maybe we are failing at this table with this engagement.”

Coun. Diane Brennan said she was very happy with the draft and is confident that city staff will engage Snuneymuxw down the road, adding that she’s pleased with how the draft plan came about.

“I am really impressed with the way we’ve gone about this in so far that we have developed it, taken it to the public, come back, worked on it and now we are going back out to the public to say, did we get it right?,” she said, adding there is lots of opportunity for people to provide more feedback.

Included in the plan were various transit options within the area such as integrated bike lanes, one-way streets, pedestrian paths and dedicated lanes for bus stops.

The city plans to hold further consultations prior to adopting any plan; no time frame was discussed.

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