STORY OF THE YEAR: Low-barrier housing sparks controversy

Low-barrier housing was the most controversial issue in Nanaimo this year.

Low-barrier housing was the most controversial issue in Nanaimo this year.

Housing advocates and opponents were locked in a battle against each other and the City of Nanaimo to have their voices heard on the city’s Housing First Strategy that proposes to build 160 supportive housing units in Nanaimo.

While other issues such as the HST, urban farming and smart meters were also shrouded in controversy, the housing issue is my pick for 2011’s story of the year.

It draws attention to the underlying problem  of poverty in Nanaimo. It highlights the importance of clear communication between the City of Nanaimo and residents on issues that impact their neighbourhoods.

The housing issue sparked countless public meetings, protests and petitions. It also led to the formation of three organizations both for and against the housing projects: the Hospital Area Neighbourhood Association, Concerned Citizens of Nanaimo and The Green Light Project. The Concerned Citizens group also made housing an election issue by circulating material endorsing specific candidates in the fall election.

The proposed projects at 1406 Bowen Rd., 6025 Uplands Dr. and 1598 Townsite Rd. drew the most heat this year. The property rezoning for 1406 Bowen Rd. was debated during four, four-hour public hearings, filling the Shaw Auditorium to or beyond its 200-seat capacity. In June, council adopted the rezoning but stopped immediate development, agreeing to develop on the other sites first and only on Bowen Road if necessary.

Residents will get a better glimpse of how the proposed housing will impact the community when the 36-unit facility on Wesley Street opens this spring.