Nearly 100 hectares of former Greater Nanaimo Water District property near Colliery Dam Park will not be dedicated as parkland, at least not for the time being.
Nanaimo city councillors failed to pass a park dedication bylaw calling for 96 hectares of city-owned property, located at 801, 1150 and 1151 Nanaimo Lakes Rd., to be dedicated specifically as parkland, despite councillors voting 5-1 in favour.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay was the sole member of council to vote against the park dedication bylaw, which required at least two-thirds majority of council approval in order to pass. McKay’s opposing vote means council fell one vote shy of the required six votes needed to pass the bylaw.
McKay, who has voted against the parkland dedication from the beginning, told the News Bulletin that he opposed the idea because there is an affordable housing crisis going on in the city and some of the land could have been used for housing.
“I find it hard to believe that with all that land available that council was not even willing to explore the possibility of using some of that property for affordable housing,” he said.
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There is an opportunity to “redeploy” certain parks that are expensive to maintain and rezone them for affordable housing, according to McKay, who explained that when council rezones parkland, it must dedicate parkland of the same size in another area of the community. He said council could remove older parks, such as Caledonia Park, and dedicate the former Greater Nanaimo Water District land as parkland over a period of time, instead of all at once.
“I love Caledonia Park, however, we’ve got a brand new turf field at NDSS. Is it possible that we could turn NDSS into a nice little development with some non-market housing?” he asked, later adding that believes there is a great need for affordable housing in Nanaimo.
Coun. Jerry Hong voted in favour of the bylaw despite his own personal opposition, explaining that he voted in favour because he supports the will of council and that he won’t stop council from achieving what it wants to achieve.
“I voted against it originally, but when it comes to the adoption of bylaws, it is the will of council and I have always said I will always support the will of council when it comes to a two-thirds majority council vote require,” Hong said. “When council has made that decision, I will vote in favour of that even though I have expressed my opposition when we had the discussion.”
Meanwhile, Coun. Bill Yoachim, who was absent from the meeting, said he plans to bring the park dedication bylaw back for reconsideration at the next council meeting and is “disappointed” the mayor did not support the will of council.
“We have passed previous motions to get it this far. The majority of council supported it and it is a good project,” he said.
Some of former water district land would have been excluded from the dedication, including Reservoir No. 1, a parks yard, which could be the potential headquarters for Nanaimo Search and Rescue, and a Nanaimo Animal Shelter covenant area.
Yoachim said adding green space to the area near Colliery Dam is the most appropriate use of the land and that affordable housing is better suited for other areas of the community.
“I think it would be great green space and I don’t think it would be suited for low-income housing,” he said.