Nanaimo’s public process for development in the city has one fatal flaw – the public is barely involved.
Once a developer expresses interest in building on Nanaimo property, plans are discussed behind closed doors and, if necessary, a rezoning process initiated, reaching second reading at council before residents have any notification and opportunity to comment on proposals.
By that point, it’s almost always a done deal – despite what our elected officials claim. Provincial legislation, which is where change to the consultation process needs to happen, restricts city politicians from discussing the proposals after the public hearing, cutting off another avenue of input.
It all seems a little backward, particularly in the case of Nanaimo’s last five-acre farm, which is being rezoned for high-density, multi-family development near Third Street and Howard Avenue.
It is the last piece of a significant part of Nanaimo’s history dating back to active coal mining days, which saw land divided into five-acre parcels to allow people to grow vegetables and raise animals.
Many residents only found out about the rezoning application at public hearing, too late for groups like FoodShare to pursue the property for use in sustainable agriculture.
City staff recognized the huge community value of the property, not in dollars, but in heritage and food security.
Council had before it a simple solution – reject the rezoning application.
The property is zoned single family, restricting its use. Although the Third Street corridor is earmarked for densification, council could have chosen to listen to the conversations happening in the community and amend the plan against development – something councils do all the time in the other direction.
For that to occur, council needs the political backbone to realize Nanaimo doesn’t owe developers anything.