2016’s Top Stories #8: City plans Railtown and Cottonwood Market

The aim, the planners said, is to diversify the area without sacrificing its original industrial flavour.

The renovated CPR station is the keystone of the planned redevelopment of the Railtown area.

The renovated CPR station is the keystone of the planned redevelopment of the Railtown area.

The future of Railtown went from daydreams to printed plans in less than a year.

The process included a consulting company and a stakeholder group that contained several Railtown business owners.

One project in Railtown was far ahead of the planning process, though. In January the first tenants (including the Nelson Star and the tourism visitor centre) moved into the renovated CPR station.

The Chamber of Commerce had patiently shepherded this project along over many years, supported by federal job-training grants. The station is now a monument to both traditional historical restoration and modern green building.

The area the city has dubbed Railtown is bordered by Highway 3A, Government Road, Cottonwood Falls, and the CPR railway tracks including the station.

It is primarily industrial and the city’s plan is to keep that flavour but also increase housing, green spaces, and small commercial ventures.

In the spring the stakeholder group went through a planning workshop with the consultants and in March and June they presented their gradually evolving ideas to poorly attended public meetings.

The planning process was paid for with a grant from the Canadian Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The draft plans divided the area geographically into five precincts: the market, live-work, railyard, industry, and heritage-commercial precincts. Each of these would have its own character and purpose.

The aim, the planners said, is to diversify the area without sacrificing its original industrial flavour.

Late in 2015 the old Cottonwood Market structures had been controversially torn down. The draft plan for Railtown showed a new Cottonwood Market, moved toward the highway and closer to the park, and with permanent structures what would allow for other kinds of cultural events including concerts. City council gave its approval to the new market concept in March.

The new market development had a $600,000 price tag, and the city stated unspecifically that this could include grants and in-kind donations.

In the summer, the Cottonwood Market set up on its usual site but as a small village of tents. The Star interviewed many customers and vendors and found that most thought the market had improved and they did not miss the old wooden structures.

Councillor Anna Purcell set up a booth for two weekends at the market to ask for input and tell people about the plans so far.

She came to the same conclusions as the Star and she found that most people were unaware of the new council-approved market plan.

In December, council voted to adopt a final draft of the plan, a wide-ranging concept outline with a long timeline because many of the envisioned changes would take place on private land.

The city said it intends to create zoning, incentives, and infrastructure changes to assist the private sector in following the plan, which is outlined at nelsonrailtown.com.

The city will begin with several short-term actions: connect Railtown and Baker St. to the waterfront including a pedestrian overpass across the tracks, improve the intersection of Baker and the highway, connect Baker St. to the Cottonwood Market, create a pedestrian mews or lane in the area behind the gasworks building, connect Baker St. to Government Road on the west end of Railtown, enhance the railyard plaza in front of the station with landscaping and create a space for festivals and events, create a station park at the historic Superintendent’s House, and create mixed-use multi-family housing at the historical site of the Cottonwood Market.

Mixed use family housing means condos. Whether the Railtown plan includes condos at that location is unclear.

Nelson Star

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