Email follow-up to Mayor Ruttan: Port Place Mall redevelopment plans
Thanks, Mayor Ruttan, for your reply to my request to seek the input of architect Franc D’Ambrosio, author of the award-winning City of Nanaimo Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines, as you review the Port Place Mall redevelopment applications. A quick follow up if you’ll permit me.
Your detailed note helped me understand better a number of the complexities involved in these applications. In honesty, though I’m unable to understand how it could be detrimental to you or your colleagues on Council to include Mr D’Ambrosio’s perspective in your decision-making on the redevelopment of a site of such importance especially to residents of the city centre and south end neighbourhoods.
I can tell you – while at the same time I urge you to contact Mr. D’Ambrosio directly – that he has voiced concerns about the redevelopment and rezoning applications.
He has also cautioned me to be respectful of and sympathetic to how difficult and complex these decisions can be for City Councils and Planning Departments. There’s a number of conflicting interests at work and it falls to you folks to make the best decision possible.
Among Mr. D’Ambrosio’s concerns is this redevelopment proceeding in the absence of a comprehensive plan that includes the future redevelopment of the waterfont lands to the immediate south of this site.
An auto-oriented mall that one might find in suburban neighbourhoods risks segregating this site from the charming winding European-style street grid to its immediate north. There’s such an exciting opportunity here to take a great step forward in the planning and development of our downtown.
I have great respect for the investment being made here in our downtown by First Capital. I continue though to wonder if this shopping mall model is in their or the City’s longer term best economic interest . Is the highest and best use for this site an expanse of “free parking”?
You refer in your memo, Mayor Ruttan, to “…the interconnection of Terminal Avenue and Front Street with a new access road has formed a fundamental starting point for the redevelopment plan…” Perhaps you could ask Planning Staff to clarify this for me. Are we establishing here a privately owned road? Are privately owned roads good public policy?
Lastly, some anecdotal feedback on how important this site is to Nanaimo residents and how involved they feel they’ve been able to be in this process. The 3 neighbourhood associations that represent the thousands of shoppers that frequent Port Place have expressed concerns re difficulty finding information and opportunities to provide input, as well as reporting large numbers of queries from their members. Also on the new website NanaimoCityHall blog (You may not be eager to accept feedback from a blog. They have not in general distinguished themselves as sources of reliable, objective information, though we have higher aspirations for this one.) by far the highest readership and number of links clicked has had to do with the Port Place Mall redevelopment applications.
I will, as you suggest, continue to follow this process with great interest.
Well said, Frank.
We all hope and pray the developer sees fit to revisit the design for that site, if only because there is a considerable amount of opportunity lost by proceeding as planned.
I would like to suggest that Lewis N. Villegas be consulted. When he helped the FPN form a plan for downtown, he did a very sensitive rendition of a proposal for the Port Place mall. I can’t help thinking the developer would do very well, employing Mr. Villegas for some consultation.
To my mind, Port Place mall properties represent a unique opportunity to generate revenue, with very little risk, while fitting into the fabric of the surrounding communities. Input from talent of the caliber of Mr. Villegas would go a long way towards realizing the full potential of that site.
Dan, are you in touch with him and could you let him know about these developments? I know he joins in very interesting conversations with other architects and urbanists — Michael Geller and our own Urbanismo included — on urban issues journalist Frances Bula’s blog: http://www.francesbula.com.
The issue with having more consultants is or can be a costly one since they won’t, as I wouldn’t work for free. That said, if an individual has respected experience in such a position such as this architect does one must argue that we have got to get this down town right and as such we can not put the cart before the horse here as Nanaimo has done many times over because a developer has come to the table with a plan. There must be a vision, over all plan and future plans for what this shall look like and function like. Without is simply poor planning and bad risk.
Surely, a car orientated mall like Country Club or Brooks Landing has become is a dated form unto itself that although First Captial may have experience with in such locations as Calgary one has to ask why do we need that here? Understanding that people have to get there to shop or do business but a drive up mall is not the answer.
Mayor, you must get this one right or your ideas for the Nanaimo without the likes of the old guard in place wouldn’t look much different.
May I suggest that you rethink this point and get this architect involved?
Just an idea.
It’s really important especially at this point as this is still in front of the Design Advisory Panel and before it goes to Council to let them know we care about getting the best result possible for all concerned W. Earp: please forward your well expressed concerns to Mayor&Council@nanaimo.ca and planners Ted Swabey: Ted.Swabey@nanaimo.ca and Andrew Tucker: Andrew.Tucker@nanaimo.ca.
Send me an email at email@example.com so I can get to it.
Clarification from Planner Gary Noble re the following in the Mayor’s memo:
“The construction of the Commercial Rental Unit on 9 Nicol Street can proceed to construction as soon as the owner would like to start.”
Good morning Frank,
This project has been reviewed and accepted by the Design Advisory Panel. We are awaiting Min. of Environment (MOE) approval under contaminated site legislation. This should be available shortly. With MOE approval the project will be posted for Council review and approval. Gary Noble MCIP
This is not clarification,it is obfuscation.Incidently Mr.Noble,the memo in question was not written by the Mayor but rather by Ted Swabey.
If you read it carefully, it does clarify. It says that contrary to Mayor Ruttan’s memo the smaller project on Nicol St cannot proceed without Council approval.
Here’s the minutes of the Design Advisory Panel meeting of Dec 09 ’09 at which the plans for the Port Place Mall redevelopment were approved.
Click to access DAP091209M.pdf
Note that architects Doug Bromage and Jolyon Brown were not in attendance.
Correction to my comment May 25th: clarified by Director of Planning Andrew Tucker https://nanaimocityhall.com/2010/05/27/email-thread-with-planners-noble-tucker-re-mayors-memo-port-place-mall/
The 9 Nicol St project does not need Council approval. The reason for this is interesting. It’s contained in Bylaw 7031 which Andrew points out gives GM Development Services, Ted Swabey, authority to sign off on a project like this without requiring Council’s approval. Anyone else find this a little shocking?
Here’s a late reply to something I picked up by Googling my own name—while monitoring media coverage of the recent Historic Area Height Review flip-flop by Vancouver Council, 20 jan 2011.
Maybe Google will help you find this late reply.
The comments that the Port Place mall can re-develop in a new image are a correct reading of the “Nanaimo Downtown Charrette” urban code of 2004 – 05.
In the ensuing years, my work has continued along the same vein. The strongest new areas of development have to do with public transportation. In that context, the “Free Bus Loop” that we proposed in that report (originating at the Port Place) is still cutting edge thinking in local urbanism.
The inspiration for the sketches of the Port Place Mall were Vancouver’s Granville Island. With the advantage of roof-top parking, and very good bus service, this seemed like a likely proposition.
At stake is understanding the difference between “a mall” and an “urban site”. Nanaimo is probably the best place in our province to understand the former, Granville Island is a hands-down favourite to get the latter.
The driving idea behind such a design is to understand the value of the “ground plane”. Consider two examples.
First, in Granville Island, there are no curbs. Bollards provide the demarcation between where cars can and cannot go. However, the bollards are “transparent” to pedestrian movements. I can roll right through a line of bollards with a baby stroller and never even think about it (Granville Island is also a fabulous place to take kids to have a “run around” during our cold and rainy season).
The other example is the “Safeway” parking lot. Have you ever stopped to think that pedestrians and cars mix there everyday and there are very few negative consequences? How can this be?
Well, it turns out that we respond to cues in the design of the place. In a parking lot, we tend to understand that pedestrians could be anywhere, and we make adjustments as drivers (we slow down). Granville Island teaches us that this same result can be obtained in a place that feels nothing like a parking lot.
These considerations alone could be enough to turn Port Place from a same-old shopping centre to a special “district” in Nanaimo’s superb Historic Downtown.
Keep hope alive. The very pattern of streets and blocks in Historic Nanaimo’s downtown plat is without equal in North America (possibly… but only just—Boston’s Beacon Hill could submit a challenging claim).
In urbanism, that is not a “fact” that is easily discarded. Yes, the events of the past 5 or 6 years have put your Historic Townsite at the Brink.
Time will now tell which force is greater: day-to-day development proposals; or a townsite plat that is expertly married to the landscape and galvanized in the law of the land.
I’m betting on the resilience of “good” urbanism.