Nanaimo councillors send Porsche dealership proposal to public hearing

City staff recommended councillors reject proposal near Nanaimo North Town Centre

An artist rendering of a proposed Porsche and Subaru dealership at 4900 Island Hwy. N., near Long Lake. (City of Nanaimo image)

An artist rendering of a proposed Porsche and Subaru dealership at 4900 Island Hwy. N., near Long Lake. (City of Nanaimo image)

The public will get to have a say about a proposed Porsche dealership near Nanaimo North Town Centre.

During a council meeting on Monday night, Nanaimo city councillors went against a staff recommendation and unanimously passed first and second reading of a rezoning application for a planned Porsche and Subaru dealership at 4900 Island Hwy. N., giving the project the green light to proceed to a public hearing.

The proposal, brought forward by Victoria-based GAIN Group, calls for the construction of Porsche and Subaru dealerships, a pre-owned dealership and a parkade structure for the property, which was once the site of Long Lake Nurseries. If approved, Subaru would relocate from its existing location on Kenworth Road.

GAIN Group owns multiple luxury automobile dealership on Vancouver Island, including existing Subaru, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Mini dealerships in Nanaimo.

GAIN Group’s application seeks to have the zoning designation changed to permit site-specific auto sales, service and rental for site-specific use, arguing that the property has good highway visibility, is close to other dealerships and that traffic and noise impacts on the neighbourhood would be minimal.

Councillors were required to vote on sending the project to public hearing after the previous council, this past September, voted unanimously to allow GAIN’s application to proceed through the rezoning process, despite staff’s recommendation against the project.

RELATED: Porsche and Subaru dealerships can proceed with planning in north Nanaimo

City staff have recommended councillors reject the rezoning application on the grounds that the property’s current zoning designation, COR3, does not permit stand-alone auto sales, service and rental use for the property and that the rezoning application does not meet the intent of the official community plan.

Lainya Rowett, manager of current planning for the city, urged councillors on Monday night to put the brakes on the rezoning application and not allow it to head to a public hearing, arguing that it sets a precedent for future developers to request similar types of use within the COR3 corridor designation.

“It’s not very often that we bring forward a rezoning application with a recommendation from staff for denial,” she said. “This is something we take very seriously and put a lot of thought into.”

Rowett said some form of multi-family residential housing would be a better fit for the property, explaining that the property could fit between 40 and 120 residential dwelling units. She said the Long Lake neighbourhood is centrally located, within walking distance of recreational amenities and commercial buildings, adding that an automative dealership would go against city policy and councillor’s priorities and does not fit the character of the neighbourhood.

“The proposed low-intensity auto-oriented use in this location doesn’t meet the intent of the city’s strategic priorities or council’s policies and the community’s vision to achieve a more complete and liveable city,” she said.

Mark Holland, president of Holland Planning Innovations Inc., spoke on behalf on GAIN Group and told councillors that city staff failed to mention in their presentation that the property’s zoning has 44 allowable uses permitted. He said staff have cherry picked through the 44 allowed land uses and found one they wanted.

Holland, who refuted numerous arguments made by city staff, said GAIN Group’s application meets the height requirements and exceeds the parking requirements set out by the city. He also told councillors that the site is unhealthy for residential use because of its proximity to the highway.

“The pollutants that come from car exhausts are so small in their micron size that they actually pass the blood brain barrier and get into your brain. It is statistically proven in studies in numerous countries that they contribute to mental problems, to COPD and many illnesses including dementia.”

GAIN Group’s proposal would also create 70 full-time jobs, according to Holland, who said residential units don’t create jobs long-term.

“In 150 years of planning, what we’ve learned is that it is much harder to get jobs than bedrooms … we think the jobs provided in this corridor are far better than the residential,” he said, adding “this is a tenfold increase on employment density in this corridor which is the purpose that staff have spoken too. It increases walkability, mix-uses, enhances the ground, it increases your tax base.”

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Prior to passing the first two readings, Coun. Zeni Maartman said it was important for councillors to send the project to a public hearing so the public can have their say.

“I am not saying I’ve made up my mind one way or another but I want to hear more from the public,” she said.

Coun. Jim Turley said as a former local business owner he knows the difference between an impulse business and a destination business and believes 4900 Island Hwy. N. will only be successful with a “single” destination business on it such as a dealership.

“Some people say we don’t need another car dealership, but really that is not council’s decision to make. I believe our decision is to decide where it is going to go,” Turley said. “The fact that we have 14 new and used dealership within two-kilometres … tells me that customers, usually when they are looking for a vehicle will probably travel to several lots to check things and the last thing we want to have them doing is running from Chase River to Woodgrove.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe indicated he had reservations both about the application and about staff’s recommendation for the site, explaining that the vote puts him in “awkward” position.

“If I vote against the motion as it stands now at second reading, I am showing a closed mind to this project because defeating this motion would end the project,” he said.

Thorpe said while he is impressed with GAIN Group’s proposal, he doesn’t believe 4900 Island Highway North is the best location for a car dealership.

“I will need to be convinced [about] having another car dealership in a section of our city that is not covered in our official community plan, which, I am hearing is not supported by the neighbourhood association, which does not jive with our transportation master plan and other elements that our staff have brought forward,” he said, adding that he doesn’t go against staff recommendations lightly.

Coun. Erin Hemmens also expressed reservations about the project, explaining that Nanaimo is viewed by people from outside the community as a city with nothing but malls and car dealerships. She said councillors need to take the “long view.”

“For me, I am really interested in building a cohesive and liveable and complete city and I don’t know that another car dealership in an area that we have identified as possibly having other uses, I don’t know that is in our best interest,” she said.

Nanaimo’s history and how it’s developed has made it challenging to build a city that is more sustainable without creating more urban sprawl, according to Coun. Ben. Geselbracht.

“I think that we as a community need to update the OCP and come to a shared vision of where we are going to put our residential, our industrial lands, and where we are going to locate future auto dealerships so that there is a plan to move towards something that is going to work better for everybody because at that moment I think that there is not a lot of cohesion and agreement on that,” he said.

Coun. Tyler Brown said the city is in an awkward position around the policy and planning contexts and is unsure whether he could support the application, while Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she was supportive of the project and doesn’t think the site would be able to support a multi-residential development because of how much traffic it would generate.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said while he appreciates that staff and the neighbourhood association want to see housing developed on the property, he said the site would be “one of the last places” he would want to see residential development. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram


Nanaimo News Bulletin