Port Place Mall: council approves short term, short sighted compromises
Frank Murphy — June 24 2010
At Monday’s Council meeting the development permit for the Port Place Mall was approved unanimously. If, like me, you’re confused as to what exactly that means, know we’re not alone. Councillors also seemed very unsure of what they were voting on.
Councillor Sherry indicated he was in support of the project in part because it would provide more residential units downtown. Phase 1 as far as I can tell doesn’t include any housing. The north side of the new strip mall between Nicol and Front will have a second storey of offices.
Councillor Pattje, whose support for this I find especially puzzling, seemed to indicate that there had been sufficient community consultation and the the proposal was much better than what it is to replace. He asked the developer representative, who he mentioned he’d met with over lunch, if he saw a problem with the privately owned road proposed. The reply: not from our point of view, though of course it won’t be as wide as a city street. Councillor Pattje also was unclear on what had changed in the development permit application, apparently and not surprisingly, because neither Council or the public had been given sufficient time to review the latest version. (It wasn’t available until Friday afternoon on the City’s website.)
I wonder how we’ll like a privately owned road in the heart of our downtown when the owner puts speed bumps on it, restricts access to it and starts to remove from it the “undesirables”. The city has offered this access road on private property as a reason they support this project. Imagine using this narrow connector as cars back out of the angled parking in front of the stores. You don’t have to imagine though, you can go to First Capital’s Terminal Park Mall to see what they have in mind.
Councillor Kipp mildly chided staff for too often giving Council complex information on issues to be voted on without sufficient time to study it and weigh its merits.
Reference was made to a veiled threat by Thrifty’s and London Drugs to pull out of the downtown if this mediocrity didn’t get the blessing of the Planning Department and Council. A flimsy basis for such an important decision indeed. In small cities all across the continent expanses of parking asphalt are being renewed successfully incorporating retailers large and small. The key ingredients: vision and political will. Both in short supply here it seems. The key element: no expanses of surface parking.
The system and its protocols have failed us badly here and further damage has been done to our downtown.
As I mentioned in earlier posts I asked archictect Franc D’Ambrosio whose firm the City contracted to develop the Downtown Urban Plan and Guidelines for his views on these redevelopment plans. He said he was surprised and disappointed that he had not been asked by the City or the developer for his input. He suggested that the compromises being made here were accommodating a private sector economic priority over the public interest of the city as a whole. And that somehow the owners of important sites like Port Place Mall must be convinced that they must take a longer term and broader view of the impact their businesses have on the host city that they choose to consider as a market for their wares and a place to park their customers cars.
Short term, short sighted compromises have been made here at the expense of what’s in the best long term interests of the city as a whole. Council and the Planning Department have failed us here.
Just what WAS passed at Monday’s meeting. I note that Derek Spalding in the Daily News reports that Phases I and II were passed, i.e. the commercial space AND the low rise residential. I thought it was just phase I. What does this mean for the tower? Did we already pass a comprehensive plan showing the tower? And if we did and there are major changes do we not need a re-do? There seem to be a number of hitches in the sequencing here. Perhaps the Planning Department could enlighten us all about the processes involved here and why this is not an extraordinary set of circumstances. I and many others may be confused by the lack of a proper story for this very significant project. It strikes me that too often a developer may have to take flak due to inadequate public presentation on the part of the city.
The process doesn’t inspire confidence, does it. It may be that the development permit allows the building of residential on top of the 2 storey structure to built on the north side but my understanding is that there are no plans to build that now. But again, it’s not clear to me and it seems it wasn’t clear to Council what they were voting on.
Two points from my observation of the meeting. At one point I thought city staff said that further public consultation was not needed. I may have misunderstood but I’m pretty sure that is what he said.
I also feel Council’s mind was made up long before the meeting and unless they had been confronted with something of substance it was a done deal.
Does anyone know if any more public consultation is actually required at this point. As Mr. Pattje kept making the point that nothing of substance had changed since last Dec.
What point was he making?
I presumed he was saying that no one opposed was offering any substantial reasons for not proceeding.
What was I missing???
Jim, Planner Andrew Tucker in this May 27 post points out that there is little or no obligation for a Council or Planning Staff to consult the public on development permit applications.
The Planning Department — and now Council — are asking us to accept that because they are not under any legal obligation to seek input on a project like this, they don’t intend to nevermind how much it could contribute to a better outcome for all involved.
They are required to sleep walk through a public hearing process which we’ve seen them do so many times before when it comes to the rezoning application. This is for the height variance from 6 to 26 storeys. This will increase the value of the property, return nothing to the citizens of Nanaimo and almost certainly never be built.
I think all the residential component of this project is a Hitchcock MacGuffin. They get a strip mall in the heart of our downtown, in return we get pretty pictures of condos.
The owner is asking for a relaxation of the 65 foot height limit that affects this property. The owner seeks development rights from the city that would allow construction up to 285 feet in height. Relaxation of building heights requires a zoning amendment and the request for this received First and Second reading on Monday, it now needs Public Hearing review and will be followed by Third and final reading before enactment into law.
The effect of the 65 foot height limit is to protect public buildings and public places surrounding the site from undue shadowing, to protect view corridors, and to encourage construction of the scale of building commonly found in the downtown core.
Over the past twelve months and up until one working day before First and Second reading, the tower was shown located south of the proposed new road through the site. In this location it was almost a palatable project and its impact on the harbour, public spaces and other buildings was negligible. Not so now as this is a building that will cast a shadow over a thousand feet long in the winter, and will overshadow Diana Krall Plaza, Piper Park, Port Theatre, Front Street (permanently) the seaside boardwalk, finger wharfs, the floating docks, the Dingy Dock ferry stop, and the public walk ways around Cameron Island.
This building will have a substantial impact on the public realm in the currently proposed location and should not be supported. It is more supportable south of the new road in its familiar location. The height limit could be relaxed for this portion of the site but not for the north side of the new road. This is the only way to protect the public interest well allowing the development of this type of building
Its time to prepare for the public hearing on the rezoning for the tower.
I need to know how many residential units are going into that tower, and an average size for each unit.
Happy to be of help, Dan. Here’s the extensive information on the rezoning application which has been on the City’s website for over a year.
Click to access RA000223.pdf
That was funny, Frank. The address you posted led to a pdf that only states, “information coming soon.”
You got me. ;^)