The Road to Improvement

Ron Bolin —  July 14, 2009
The July 13 meeting of the Plan Nanaimo Advisory Committee (PNAC) was of particular interest in facing the future of land development in the city. The Committee recommended adoption of a student housing project on Wakesiah, seeking to kick start the “Corridor” zone which currently does not exist but is contemplated in the upcoming overhaul of the zoning bylaw, about which more later. This is an interesting idea as it will permit the development of very small units which will supposedly be rented to students only. I suspect that it may be difficult to limit the accommodation to students in light of the need for low cost housing in Nanaimo and the situation of the homeless and those who must live hand to mouth in our McJobs environment. It is interesting that small units should be OK for year round housing for students, but that others should be excluded. Are all non-student homeless shiftless and unworthy of living with others in peace and quiet? It seems to me that we are not really thinking clearly on this subject, even though I support the project. What do you think?

Also of interest were reports on the two Neighbourhood Plans which are currently under development. The South End Plan seems to be going swimmingly and should be completed in the fall. The Newcastle+Brechin Plan remains plagued with all those problems associated with the rights of those who own waterfront property along the channel versus those who own property further back. Waterfront land continues to be a problem as many see it as a heritage of the city as a whole to be treated accordingly, while others recognize its high per foot economic value when maxed out for development. Encouraging waterfront development exacerbates this problem as does the fact that most of the land facing the sea is sloping, giving broad horizons to those along the slope which will be damaged or destroyed by high-rises on the shore. Some cities have chosen to protect their waterfronts and to promote high-rises at the top of the bank where they have an even broader view of the water without destroying the views along the way. I believe that permitting high-rise waterfront development is a short term gain for long term pain. What do you think?

Of greatest interest was a brief introduction to the development of a new zoning bylaw to go with our new Official Community Plan (OCP). The report can be found here, and contains a number of proposals for change which I would applaud, including permitting smaller building lots, allowing some variation of lot sizes within developments, a reduction in the number of zones, some allowing mixed uses, and at least a tip of the hat to indicating zones in transition, i.e. those areas in which change can be anticipated within a relatively short time frame so that home owners and buyers are not blindsided by change. This foresight currently will be related to the OCP which defines, for example, “Corridors”, within which density and land use are anticipated to change. There are a lot of things to like about the proposals in this review and I strongly suggest that we all keep our eyes on this ball as it rolls forward. As I previously wrote regarding the Hillcrest case, what is needed is an additional goal which defines the rights and privileges of current owners to the quiet enjoyment of their property even as change inevitably comes. Please give the development of this new Zoning Bylaw your best thought and attention. There will be nothing more important on the city’s horizon until a new OCP review comes along.