Plan Nanaimo Advisory Committee and the Newcastle/Brechin Neighbourhood Plan Recommendation

Ron Bolin: Feb. 16, 2011

Following a brief report on the proposed new zoning bylaw this afternoon, PNAC began the thankless task of deciding whether to forward a recommendation on the Newcastle/Brechin Neighbourhood Plan to Council.  I say thankless because rather than there being a Newcastle/Brechin Neighbourhood Association, the plan was set before three associations, The Newcastle group, the Brechin Group and the Stewart Avenue Group, each of which has relatively –and I stress relatively- homogenous goals for itself which are at some odds with the others.  And each of them seems to be rather vague about their membership and authority in representing their neighbourhoods beyond having been charged by Council to come up with a council formed by three representatives from each.The Brechin group seems to be made up largely of home owners who, living on the slopes over the Newcastle Channel, find their property values to be highly enhanced by the views which they currently enjoy looking out on the channel and Newcastle Island.

The Newcastle group seems to be made up largely of the owners of property which already contains a great number of rental properties and who would like to see further density in the area, much of which has already lost its views to existing development.

The Stewart Avenue group seems to be made of several land owners along the channel which see maximum value from their holdings to come from high-rise development along the waterfront.  This, of course, would spell the end of the views for the Brechin group.

While they do form three separate interests, those of the Newcastle and Stewart Avenue groups are not in essential competition and thus agree on many points.  This leaves the Brechin group swinging in the wind.

The fundamental problems in this venture stem first from the terrain involved which descends from the heights to the water and secondly to the differences in economic outlook to which this landscape circumstance have given rise: the desirable views from the heights on the one hand and the desirability of waterfront property on the other and their incompatibility in this instance.  While it was never directly expressed, the tension in the room seemed to me to revolve around who would gain in the plan and who would lose, with very high stakes on both sides.  I would venture to say that without a very strong demand from Council that only one organization be formed and that that group be mandated to come up with one negotiated plan in which all could come out ahead, this attempt was doomed to failure from the start.

By allowing these three groups to go their own way, it is not surprising that they did so.  A suggestion that the plan be sent back to the reps of the three groups was rejected by at least one of the representatives and by PNAC.  As might be expected, a great deal is riding on the waterfront properties.  It was noted that the current OCP calls for a maximum of three stories in this area as well as the preservation of Nanaimo’s marine values.  This necessarily raised the issue of whether it is within the prerogative of a Neighbourhood Plan, which represents the aspirations of a neighbourhood, to trump the OCP which represents the aspirations of the entire municipality.  This question remains unanswered and Council will have to grapple with it along with those relating primarily to building height and neighbourhood density in the Plan as it comes to them.

In the end, after many losing votes on various shades of the matter, many if not most of them lost on tie votes, PNAC decided to send the Plan forward as approved, but with serious reservations in the matters of both height and density, thus throwing the baby back to Council with the proviso that the PNAC Chair explain the situation to Council. It could equally well have been a recommendation to deny with provisos for action.

To close on a higher note, PNAC members noted that there were a number of excellent suggestions that came along with plan. The Planning Department cannot be faulted for doing what they could with what I would call a doomed situation and can be applauded for their efforts in almost meeting a next to impossible challenge.

The challenge now is up to Council.  We can all wish them luck.  I am sure that they will hear from all those affected by the plan when it comes to them, presumably at the next Council meeting on Feb. 28.

We welcome comments to this blog in response to this report from participants or visitors at tonight’s meeting and from the public in general about the waterfront and the OCP or about the issues arising in this neighbourhood plan which did not exist in those done previously.