Delegations told city council at a governance and priorities committee meeting Monday they are opposed to plans to create a public transit exchange on Terminal Avenue and a public park on the former Jean Burns Building site at the Terminal Avenue and Commercial Street intersection.
(Image: City of Nanaimo)

Nanaimo city councillors hear opposition to bus exchange plans at downtown ‘Hub’ properties

Project was reviewed at a governance and priorities committee meeting Monday, Oct. 25

City councillors heard concerns this week over plans to redevelop the former Jean Burns building site in downtown Nanaimo.

At a governance and priorities meeting Monday, Oct. 25, councillors reviewed proposals for the downtown ‘Hub’ at Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue and recommended focusing on plans that would incorporate multi-storey, mixed-use development.

The city purchased the old Jean Burns building site as well as adjacent properties earlier this year, and created concept plans for the space that included a transit exchange, a park or plaza and mixed-use buildings.

Bill Sims, city general manager of engineering and public works, presented a project update at Monday’s meeting.

“A bit of a misconception is the city bought the Jean Burns building [site] to park buses on it and I just really want to emphasize that that’s not the case. We needed part of the Jean Burns site to ensure that the transit exchange could function…” he sadi. “But I think what we’re hearing clearly from the community, clearly from our urban designer, is really asking the question, how much public space do we need in the downtown core? So perhaps that’s suggesting a different redevelopment.”

Other elements of the Hub, such as the Wallace-Commercial-Albert-Victoria Crescent intersection, are slated for changes that could even include street realignments, but those plans will be influenced by development strategies for downtown.

“Nothing has been set in stone on this,” Sims said. “What will help define this is the Commercial Street master plan … and the transit redevelopment strategy that [the RDN] and the city are working on together and so the needs of transit will help inform this.”

Terminal Avenue redevelopment work will start in late spring of 2022, but in the coming months, Sims said, the city will review input from public consultation work and hold further discussions with RDN Transit, the business improvement association, Victoria Crescent Association and other stakeholders.

The GPC meeting drew four delegations: Dan Appell, a former Nanaimo Arts Council executive and an architectural assistant; Carla Sampson, owner of Quintessential Fashions; Grant Payne, president for the Nanaimo Blues Society and Summertime Blues Festival artistic director; and Kevan Shaw, president of Victoria Crescent Association.

Appell said he felt the public engagement carried out for Hub project was “very inadequate, manipulative” and “in some ways, deceptive,” and criticized the site planning.

“This is verified by the material that’s been presented to us, thus far. There seems to be a very extreme lack of sophistication with regard to the planning of this site,” he said.

Sampson, Payne and Shaw expressed opposition to creating a transit exchange on Terminal Avenue and were concerned that loss of parking and possible road closures would restrict access to businesses.

“We need more residential and business in this area and by putting a bus exchange, this would decrease the density by using a prime location,” Sampson said.

She said bus shelters will attract loiterers and said she had a petition signed by more than 900 people indicating their opposition to a bus exchange at that location.

“You would have to enforce the removal of people taking shelter in these spaces and prevent people from congregating in this area for other means other than taking the bus,” she said.

Payne said removing parking spaces behind the Queen’s Hotel for the bus exchange would hinder patrons attending performances at the hotel and limit access for musicians who need to load and unload heavy equipment.

Shaw advocated for residential and commercial development on the Jean Burns site and suggested trying to capitalize on the location’s history as Nanaimo’s first Chinatown in the 1860s.

“[We need] something monumental to draw people across Terminal and fingers crossed for the A&B site too,” Shaw said. “More people living in our area. More residents taking ownership of it.”

Shaw praised the city’s intentions for trying to improve the downtown, but said the Hub project felt rushed with less than the usual amount of public consultation.

“We know there has got to be more talk,” he said. “We’ve indeed got to get this right.”

Coun. Tyler Brown, who chaired the meeting, put forward a recommendation that city staff focus on concepts that accommodate a multi-storey, mixed-use building on the project site.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo ‘hub’ project could permanently close section of Commercial Street to cars

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