A proposed 175-unit project at the former old hospital site at 388 Machleary St. (The Molnar Group/Wensley Architecture Ltd. image)

Opposition to 388 Machleary proposal over-extends public hearing

Nanaimo residents 10-1 against development plan in Old City Quarter, public hearing to be continued

Old City Quarter residents will wait until next month to see whether a large-scale residential project will alter their neighbourhood.

A City of Nanaimo public hearing to discuss a handful of projects, including a contentious one at 388 Machleary St., was adjourned at 11 p.m. Thursday and won’t resume until Oct. 9.

Residents spoke 10-1 in opposition to the development, which would see 175 units – three four-storey apartment buildings and 15 two-storey townhouse units – built on the old hospital site at Machleary, Kennedy and Franklyn streets.

“What we want to do is a little bit of a nice, neighbourly project and a smaller project, actually, than what we are zoned for,” said Molnar Group owner Andre Molnar.

The site’s current ‘community service’ zoning would allow for 240 units of seniors housing, says the developer, but the OCP’s ‘neighbourhood’ classification targets 10-50 units per hectare on a 1.15-hectare property. Molnar Group is seeking both an official community plan amendment and a zoning amendment.

Nanaimo Old City Association leadership opposes Molnar’s proposal. Ian Knipe, NOCA’s vice-president, said his group’s list of concerns are “proportionate to the magnitude of the ask” by the developer.

“The concerns and interests NOCA has been expressing since 2017 is not NIMBYism,” Knipe said. “It’s about stewardship of this iconic piece of land in a prominent location in the city.”

He said the developer’s plans are not in compliance with the OCP or the Old City neighbourhood plan, and “in fact it is so far out of compliance that it makes a mockery of the entire planning process.”

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

Association president Janet Wright pointed out that the applicant is asking for ‘corridor’ OCP designation for a property that is mostly surrounded by dead-end streets and isn’t a corridor to anywhere.

“Neighbourhood is the appropriate land-use designation for this site…” she said. “Each city neighbourhood has a unique character, a combination of history, housing style, physical setting, location and people. Old City neighbourhoods have character in spades.”

Several residents suggested the intersections that will be used to access the property, namely Machleary at Fitzwilliam Street, aren’t safe enough to handle increased traffic. Others opposed the scale of the project and didn’t think the “West Coast contemporary” building style suited the area. Some brought up “spot zoning” and felt it could set a precedent for developments that don’t fit the official community plan.

“It’s easy to go from bold to reckless, I think, and I believe this proposal is definitely reckless,” said resident Eric Norman. “I don’t think all the consequences have been thought through. I think it’s careless. I don’t think it considers the past, present or the future of the neighbourhood.”

Before members of the public spoke at Thursday’s meeting, there were five presentations in support of the applicant. Traffic engineer Mona Dahir of Watt Consulting calculated 60 vehicle trips to and from the property in the peak morning hours and 70-80 trips in peak evening hours. She said a review of short- and long-term traffic conditions around the property has found that no improvements are necessary.

Barry Weih, architect with Wensley Architecture, noted that the height of the proposed project, in some places, is less than the height of the five-storey hospital that used to be there. He said the buildings are situated with the taller buildings farther down the hill so the height of the project isn’t as pronounced.

“We have been involved for many years in Nanaimo building rental housing, so we have the day-to-day knowledge of what was needed in the community, in our opinion,” Molnar said.

The public hearing resumes Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Shaw Auditorium.

RELATED: $40-million condo project planned for Nanaimo’s Old City

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