An apartment building on the banks of the Millstone River will be allowed to proceed, despite being situated within the river’s watercourse setback area.
Nanaimo city council voted 7-2 on Monday to issue a development permit to Grasteve Enterprises Ltd. for a 59-unit rental building at 591 Bradley St. The building will be three storeys high along Bradley with a six-storey elevation facing the Millstone.
Council’s decision involved a variance reducing the City of Nanaimo’s watercourse setback from the top of the bank of the Millstone River from 30 metres to zero metres; however, the structures will be 22 metres from the Millstone at their nearest point and 52 metres away at the farthest point, according to a city staff report. Provincial streamside protection and enhancement area laws require a 15-metre setback.
Neighbours attending Monday’s meeting opposed the development, citing environmental and traffic concerns.
Council acknowledged that the developer had made changes to the application, including decreasing the number of units and withdrawing a request for a parking variance. City staff noted that the 30-metre watercourse setback extended to the opposite side of Bradley Street in some spots.
“There’s a difference between the provincial regulation and requirements, which the application does meet, and the city requirements, which measuring from the top of the bank would put that setback actually through the property, out into the street and in some cases on the other side of the road,” said Dale Lindsay, city director of community development. “So it is necessary to look at variances in order to allow for the development of the parcel.”
Coun. Ian Thorpe noted that a new watercourse setback would be protected by a new covenant on the property.
“I’m understanding of the concern of the residents, but I think this project is now at a scale and a design that I am able to support it,” he said.
Mayor Leonard Krog agreed, adding that the community also has a significant need for housing.
The two dissenting votes came from Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, who said her vote was based on traffic and the building’s potential shadow, and Coun. Ben Geselbracht, who said riparian areas are undervalued.
“I think that we’ve encroached on it so incredibly much in the development of our city, our baseline of what’s acceptable is very skewed. [The setback] should be back on Bradley Street,” Geselbracht said. “That covenant was put in place for reasons of erosion and protecting the bank and I’m not OK with it going across. I don’t think it sends a message that we take our banks and our riparian areas seriously.”
Jean Playdon, representing strata owners at 571 Bradley St., asked that the building’s footprint be reduced to conform with the existing covenant boundaries, adding that the slope is “very steep” and unstable.
“If there is a land slip during the course of construction of this development, how can the city claim to have protected our wild Pacific salmon?” she asked. “Is the city being good stewards of our resources by permitting this development along the steep slope bordering our salmon-bearing Millstone River? We think not.”
Paul Chapman, executive director of Nanaimo and Area Land Trust, spoke generally about riparian areas and said Nanaimo is lucky to have salmon-bearing streams and their value as habitat is “too dear to lose and too difficult to replace.”
“Riparian setbacks exist for a reason. They should not be routinely subjected to variances,” he said.
Architect Raymond de Beeld spoke on behalf of Grasteve Enterprises and said some of the requirements from the covenant, established in the mid-‘90s, are “pretty obsolete as far as the details of them” and said the river bank can be made stable.
“We don’t usually get too involved with geotechnical engineers at the development permit stage, but we’ve had a lot of discussion about how to make the bank stable and how to deal with storm water detention and everything…” de Beeld said. “We think we have a beautiful building, nice streetscape. I think there’s some viability and I think there’s appropriate density.”