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.

Frank Murphy

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