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Nanaimo city councillors approve rezoning request for luxury car dealership

GAIN Group proposal for a Subaru and another dealership passes third reading
An artist rendering of proposed auto dealerships at 4900 Island Hwy N., near Long Lake. (News Bulletin file/City of Nanaimo)

Nanaimo councillors have gone against a city staff recommendation and given a proposed luxury car dealership the green light.

Councillors voted 5-4 in favour of passing third reading of a rezoning application from GAIN Group for planned automotive dealerships at 4900 Island Hwy. N. following a public hearing at the Shaw Auditorium on Thursday night. Council’s decision paves the way for the construction of a Subaru and a luxury car dealership as well as a pre-owned dealership on the Island Highway property, which was once the site of Long Lake Nurseries.

Coun. Zeni Maartman, who had originally told council she would vote against the application, changed her mind moments before the vote, telling councillors that she would support the project because the property could have also had other uses that wouldn’t fit with the community’s vision.

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Victoria-based GAIN owns multiple luxury automobile dealerships on Vancouver Island, including existing Subaru, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Mini dealerships in Nanaimo. Subaru will relocate from its existing location on Kenworth Road to the Island Highway location should the project come to fruition.

GAIN Group requested the zoning designation be changed to permit site-specific auto sales, service and rentals, arguing the property has good highway visibility, is close to other dealerships and would create around 70 jobs.

However, city staff had repeatedly recommended councillors reject GAIN Group’s application, arguing that it does not meet the intent of the official community plan and that multi-family residential housing would be a better fit for the property.

Mark Holland, president of Holland Planning Innovations Inc., spoke on behalf on GAIN Group and told councillors that the initial submission had included a Porsche dealership, but that no deal has been “cemented” and they don’t know what brand will occupy the space.

“I need to put on record that we do not know the luxury brand. The GAIN Group represents many luxury brands from Germany and Europe and as such it will be a luxury brand but we are not sure which one at this time,” he said.

Holland told councillors the Island Highway is the “economic spine” for the city and that councillors should protect the existing “employment lands” near it, adding that failure to do so would lead to increased sprawl.

“It will undermine your housing and jobs balance because it is going to replace employment lands for housing,” he said. “It undermines your housing affordability because it removes incomes from your city and pushes them out to the edge. It therefore creates urban sprawl.”

Holland, who had presented to councillors back on Feb. 25, said that it would be wise to keep auto dealerships within a contained area instead of forcing them to be spread out even further, explaining that Lantzville has no interest in an auto mall. He also said the property was for sale for two years prior to GAIN purchasing the land and that staff’s recommendation for residential units is hypothetical, stressing that GAIN’s proposal would be respectful, not block views, improve the neighbourhood and strengthen the economy through the creation of 70 good-paying jobs.

More than a dozen people addressed councillors on Thursday night, with a general mix of comments from those who supported and those who opposed GAIN’s rezoning request. Those who supported the proposal mostly cited improvements to the neighbourhood and the addition of good-paying jobs that would come with the construction of a dealership.

Those against the proposal mainly argued that the land is better suited for a residential development, citing staff’s recommendation and suggesting that there are enough dealerships already located in the city.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said council, by voting against the application, would be sending a message to the business community. He said jobs outweigh any potential residences as jobs provide people opportunity to access housing, adding that it is the right thing for the property.

“I just happen to think the prospect of 70 jobs, many of them very good, well-paying jobs in my community, trumps the hope that you’re going to get residences there,” he said, adding that people living nearby are supportive of the dealership.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he couldn’t support the application because he doesn’t think a car dealership is the best use for the land.

“The location though is just not the best use of this valuable property … I see this as a future neighbourhood hub,” Thorpe said.

Councillors Tyler Brown, Erin Hemmens, Ben Geselbracht and Thorpe voted against the application moving forward. 
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