A concept of Sandstone’s town centre area. (Seacliff Properties image)

City reviewing plans for huge Sandstone project in south Nanaimo

Seacliff Properties says it's been told to be ready for a public hearing this fall

A plan to build 3,000 homes and new commercial and industrial districts has the potential to change south Nanaimo.

A new master plan for the Sandstone development in the Chase River-Cinnabar Valley-Cedar area is being reviewed by the City of Nanaimo and is also in the midst of a public engagement phase.

The new master plan for Sandstone resembles one created more than 10 years ago, with residential neighbourhoods in Cinnabar Valley and Cedar, a higher-density town centre between the Trans-Canada Highway and Cedar Road, and an employment and business precinct close to the Duke Point Highway.

Seacliff Properties bought the Sandstone lands, totalling 294 hectares, in 2018.

“We see incredible employment and investment opportunities within Nanaimo’s south end…” said Ian Porter, director of real estate with Seacliff, in an e-mail. “When we finish this development, we hope that Chase River will not just be where people leave in the morning and come home to in the evening, but a place where people [who] choose to live in the south end will have the ability to work, live, shop and recreate within a more compact and well-connected area.”

Jeremy Holm, the City of Nanaimo’s director of development approvals, said the municipal processes underway are for a master plan amendment and rezoning. He said the plans are being reviewed by city departments and have also been referred to various outside agencies and stakeholders.

At the same time, Sandstone’s prospective neighbours are being asked for their feedback. Seacliff Properties is holding a virtual open house on the master plan, and before that, held other meetings and information sessions.

Mike Parker, chairperson for the Chase River Community Association, said the developer has been up-front with residents and has listened to concerns. He said the area needs more development.

“People are tired of driving 20 minutes or half an hour, depending on the time of day, to the north end, so I think most people have made it pretty clear they’re excited…” he said. “Of course, we don’t know what stores are actually going to come with the Sandstone project, but that’s the only way we’re going to get those other stores.”

Sandstone’s master plan estimates property tax revenues would reach $17.6 million annually by full build-out and development cost charges would be $2.7 million a year for 20 years. Sandstone projects 1,200 jobs per year during the construction phase and 5,500 on-site jobs at full build-out.

‘Dynamic’ economic opportunities envisioned

Sandstone’s master plan document notes that the town centre will locate a mix of retail and office space in a “main street-style configuration” with medium-density to high-density housing, a transit hub and other community amenities.

The employment and business precinct southeast of the town centre could include a “business park,” tech firms or other offices, light industrial and large-format retail. The master plan notes the area’s proximity to Duke Point shipping operations and Nanaimo Airport and envisions “dynamic and evolving” opportunities for Sandstone to become “a major employment anchor for the region.”

Porter said the town centre and employment and business precincts can be a gateway to the mid Island.

“You may be surprised by the number of industrial, shipping and office businesses that we have already had knocking on our door asking for an opportunity to set up shop,” he said.

Sandstone’s town centre, industrial areas and some residential areas surround the Regional District of Nanaimo landfill, but the master plan notes that the “ultimate plan” for the landfill is that it will eventually be capped and transformed into a regional park.

Cedar could see high-rises

The residential areas of Sandstone will differ a little on each side of the Trans-Canada Highway. The plan for the Cinnabar Valley neighbourhood is 400 detached homes and 200 townhouse units, with about half the land use devoted to parks and open spaces. The plan also sets aside about 1.6 hectares for a future elementary school next to Elaine Hamilton Park and notes that there could also be an opportunity to provide land for a future community centre.

Parker said there will be some residents who don’t want the Cinnabar Valley to lose its rural character, but he said people also recognize the need for housing.

“We don’t want houses stacked one on top of the other, but we also realize that density is important,” he said. “Especially with the price of houses today, for our young people coming up, they need jobs in our area and we need housing to support them.”

Sandstone’s plans for its Cedar Road neighbourhood include 350-400 detached homes and 150-250 townhouses, with about two-thirds of the land preserved for open space or natural areas. Riverfront land is to be left in reserve, the master plan notes, and Porter said the developer has a letter of interest signed which outlines a land arrangement with Snuneymuxw.

The developer is planning at least three kilometres of connecting pathways as well as a multi-use corridor at Fielding Road.

The master plan envisions up to 2,000 residential units in multi-family buildings in the town centre area. Mid-rise and even high-rise buildings up to 20 storeys are mentioned.

Sandstone suggests the overall plan meets civic affordable housing objectives with a range of housing types, density, smaller lot sizes and secondary suites.

New highway accesses proposed

One of the most notable differences between the 2009 and 2020 Sandstone master plans is the traffic scheme. The notion of a highway overpass connecting the Cinnabar Valley to Cedar has been withdrawn “because it financially jeopardized the entire project and created many other undesirable environmental impacts that are better mitigated through alternate transportation management measures,” Sandstone noted in a letter to the city.

Instead, the developer is proposing a right-in, right-out access from the Nanaimo Parkway to McKeown Way and vice-versa. Also in the plans is a new interchange on the Duke Point Highway near Fielding Road, widening of Cedar Road, improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway-Cranberry Road intersection and more.

Porter said the developer understands that traffic in the area is a significant concern and said “a thoughtful series of active transportation enhancements and local road and intersection improvements,” along with a traffic impact assessment, will be discussed as part of the municipal public hearing process.

Parker said there are unresolved traffic issues in the Cinnabar Valley that are on people’s minds, saying it’s “a mess,” but anticipates that both the city and developers will be interested in making improvements over time.

“A buildout over 20 years, it’s hard to say what the impact will be until excavators come in and roads start getting put in and houses start getting built,” he said.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo starts work on trying to slow speeding on Extension Road

Developer ‘excited’ to move forward

Holm said the city doesn’t have definitive timelines on the next steps for Sandstone, as the review process that’s underway could result in requests for more information or revisions to the plan before staff supports moving it to the council table.

“The master plan will set out the broad policy objectives and then we’ll be reviewing the zoning to ensure that it would align with those policy objectives…” he said. “And then there would be some form of a development agreement that would outline the phasing and provision of works, services and amenities.”

Porter said the city has indicated that Sandstone should be ready to go before council this fall. In the meantime, he said the project website will be updated and there will continue to be opportunities for the public to stay informed and provide feedback.

“Ultimately, we are excited to move this … project forward and help south Nanaimo and the overall community realize the potential employment, housing and parks and amenity benefits that these lands have to offer,” he said.

READ ALSO: Designs come in for more than 200 apartments in Chase River in Nanaimo


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