An artist rendering of a development proposal for 388 Machleary St. (Molnar Group image)

Council won’t amend official community plan for 388 Machleary development

175-unit residential complex in Old City Quarter will not proceed

A contentious 175-unit residential development in the Old City Quarter will not be able to proceed as Nanaimo city council voted 6-3 against an official community plan amendment bylaw.

Molnar Group was pitching the apartment buildings and townhouses at 388 Machleary St., formerly Malaspina Gardens seniors facility and before that, the old hospital. However, 175 units would have been three times the density allowed under the property’s ‘neighbourhood’ designation, so the developer sought an OCP amendment to ‘corridor.’

Following a public hearing Wednesday night, city councillors said they generally liked the proposal and its density, but the majority said they couldn’t justify changing the official community plan.

“It is clear that a more fulsome consultation process is needed to achieve that community buy-in necessary to proceed with a development of this scale when it so drastically departs from the expectations set within the city planning documents,” said Coun. Ben Geselbracht. “Moving ahead with this project as is would be a break in the public trust in the city’s planning processes.”

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Councillors Don Bonner and Ian Thorpe felt the proposal would have been an example of “spot zoning.” Coun. Erin Hemmens suggested the OCP amendment was too much of a stretch.

“I simply do not see this as a corridor designation…” she said. “This has three dead ends on it; it’s in the middle of the neighbourhood.”

Coun. Tyler Brown said the development was a great proposal that met the goals of the transportation master plan, for example, but said the OCP is about the community’s wishes, not council’s.

“Our city has changed and it’s changing rapidly. I think we all know that. It has to change for so many reasons even at times when I think we believe it shouldn’t,” Brown said. “However, sometimes I think it’s very important that you have to move at the speed of trust.”

RELATED: Opposition to 388 Machleary proposal over-extends public hearing

Mayor Leonard Krog voiced the strongest support for the project. He noted that the people who spoke in favour of the development were young people asking for density and housing and he brought up the housing crisis and homelessness.

“I’m not prepared to turn down a proposal for a site which I think everyone surely must have assumed at some point was going to be a significant multi-residential development…” he said. “I will say quite candidly, I will vote in favour of many housing proposals in this community for as long as rents are where they are and accommodation costs are where they are.”

Hemmens said voting against the project wasn’t a vote against housing, it was a vote against the OCP amendment, and said council has doubled its building permits this year.

“We really are working on housing and we’re doing a really good job of it,” she said.

Krog and councillors Jim Turley and Sheryl Armstrong voted in favour of the OCP amendment bylaw.

The property’s current zoning allows for a 240-unit seniors’ care facility.

RELATED: Development proposal for old Nanaimo hospital site moving to public hearing


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