Byelection 2017: Candidates see opportunity on waterfront

Ideas discussed surrounding south downtown industrial area

To sell or not to sell 1 Port Drive is just one question Nanaimo’s newest politician and city council could soon face for the south downtown waterfront property.

The City of Nanaimo bought its 10.8-hectare share of the south downtown waterfront in 2013.

It’s an important piece of land to get right, to plan correctly and get the right development, according to city manager of real estate Bill Corsan, who said it extends the downtown, re-introduces the waterfront that’s been away from the public for 100 years, acts as a catalyst for redevelopment of the rest of the Wellcox rail yard and helps the port authority find new tenants.

Nanaimo residents will head to the polls this summer and make one of 13 byelection candidates a city councillor. That new candidate, along with the rest of council, could face decisions for 1 Port Drive, such as the purchase of the Seaspan right-of-way which Corsan said will enable change to start taking place. He also anticipates a decision around a temporary road, public access to the waterfront and what council wants to do with the land itself.

The City of Nanaimo is working on a master plan for its property and once finished, Corsan said it’s up to council to decide how it wants to proceed.

Kevin Cantelon, byelection candidate, said there are not a lot of opportunities to develop the waterfront and it’s important to take advantage of the chance to highlight Nanaimo as a city on the water.

He said he’s open to all suggestions, but an idea that appeals to him most right now is akin to Granville Island market.

“All things are possible with a space like that, but it maintains its public access and at the same time, it’s a draw for cruise ships. That’s why I like it, it sort of hits all the bases,” said Cantelon, who also sees it being versatile and accessible to people year round.

The city will look at land use as part of its master plan, and Cantelon said his vision is light retail and possibly light residential. Granville Island mixes industrial, too, and he said it works, so he’s open to that possibility as well, but he’s not convinced of a transit hub.

He would not be in favour of selling all the land and spoke to the need to involve all stakeholders in the decision on how to proceed with 1 Port Drive.

Byelection candidate Neil Saunders said he’d vote for a transportation hub and sell the rest. Nanaimo doesn’t really have a decent transportation hub, he said.

“Like people standing up on the street up in the Old City Quarter is crazy and when I go downtown, the two little bus stop shelters [near Port Place Shopping Centre on Front Street] are always packed down there pretty well all the time.”

He also said there could be a little trolley station in the hub, which he sees going to the north end with whistle stops. He said there could be light industrial on the mill side, and maybe commercial and residential on the Esplanade side but all privately done.

“Anything that the city owns there they should be able to make a profit off the real estate right now and sell it … I don’t believe Nanaimo should have one cent into any development on that land because they can’t do it properly,” he said. “It’s just going to be another thing that’s going to cause more taxes, just like if they would have gotten that event centre.”

Zoning and a clause for purchasers to start development within, say seven years, is how Saunders said he’d ensure planning and development is done right.

Candidate Kelly Whiteside said with all the talk on the event centre, more people want something done with 1 Port Drive. Many want to see the south downtown waterfront initiative put to life, Whiteside said, and she agrees. It’s a multi-purpose idea, brings everything into the picture, has green space, living and a future to it, she said of the vision.

“Right now we’re kind of thinking more short-term and we definitely need to be thinking long-term. Something like that is long-term and will definitely revitalize the waterfront,” she said.

Outside the waterfront initiative, she said the ocean discovery centre proposed is an absolute great idea for the location with cruise ships coming in nearby, adding it could be a “real tourism destination right there if they put something like that in.”

She’d like to see a variety of land use, like condos with retail and offices, apartments, single family homes and townhouses. Variety is important, so that everybody is accommodated and there’s a variety of people living in the area, she said. She’d want to see it sold for development and said the key to ensuring the right planning and development happens is lots of communication with community members.

Alexis Taylor Middleton, candidate, said the land is very important to Nanaimo and the people of Nanaimo, which without question involves First Nations.

She believes in the process of engagement, and that anything the City of Nanaimo does, there has to be collaboration with Snuneymuxw First Nation and it has to be mindful of the SFN treaty, she said, when asked about her vision for 1 Port Drive.

“We can have lots of ideas and I know that there’s the ocean development centre … that’s come up and that sounds like something to consider, however, it’s irrelevant to move forward on absolutely anything until there has been engagement and collaboration with the First Nations community,” Taylor Middleton said.

If she’s elected and the master plan lands on the council table, she said she’d ask for collaboration of the SFN and city councillors who would sit down and have a conversation before anything is amended or implemented.

“To me you would never want to do something in a city without the blessings of the stewards of the land. To me it’s that simple.”

She said she’s all about collaboration, cultural diversity and inclusion.

Nanaimo News Bulletin