In a turn of events that is rarely seen when it comes to development applications in British Columbia, the City of Nanaimo is rescinding the Third Reading for the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel redevelopment application and sending the project back to a public hearing.
The rezoning application passed its First Reading and Second Reading in August 2022, with a public hearing for the project held in September, before passing a Third Reading in October.
However, the City was in the process of transitioning to its new Reimagine Nanaimo City Plan at the time, which was adopted in July. That plan included truth and reconciliation policies that, among other things, requires the City to consult with First Nations about land use.
The subject site is located at the northern edge of Downtown Nanaimo, by the the Millstone River, where the Snuneymuxw First Nation has traditionally resided. In addition, the City of Nanaimo and the Snunemuxw First Nation also signed an agreement in 2019 to strengthen their government-to-government relationship.
Thus, in a February 6 council meeting, Council directed staff to reassess the rezoning application and how it complies with the truth and reconciliation policies in the City Plan. In the February 27 council meeting, staff reported back with the recommendation that the Third Reading be rescinded and the application be returned to an upcoming public hearing, "in order to preserve the integrity of the rezoning process."
Rezoning processes in many municipalities generally restrict council from receiving "new information" once a public hearing has been held, but in this case, the City is opting to treat the truth and reconciliation policies as "new information," in good faith.
"In order to ensure a fair and open and transparent public hearing process, our recommendation would be -- as this, in our opinion, could be constituted as 'new information' for council -- that the best practice is to rescind the Third Reading and go back to a public hearing," said Dale Lindsay, General Manager of Development Services for the City.
Nanaimo Howard Johnson Hotel Redevelopment
The rezoning application for the Howard Johnson Habourside Hotel redevelopment is centered around a sprawling site encompasing lots on Comox Road, Mill Street, and Terminal Avenue in Nanaimo, just east of Bowen Park.
The 1 Terminal Avenue lot is currently occupied by a building that once was a Howard Johnson Hotel, prior to it closing in 2018. Since then, according to an August 2022 staff report, the site has been used as a fitness gym, a night club, a long-distance bus terminal, a place of worship, and a liquor store.
The properties at 444 and 450 Comox Road are each occupied by a low-rise apartment building that were originally built in the 1950s, and 500 Comox Road was previously occupied by an office building. That office building was partially demolished after a fire in 1995, but the exposed foundation and parkade walls remain on the site. The 55 Mill Street lot is occupied by a single-detached home, also built in the 1950s, according to BC Assessment.
Site context map. (City of Nanaimo)
The rezoning application was submitted by Strongitharm Consulting, on behalf of the various owners of the site, with Victoria-based D'Ambrosio Architecture + Urbanism serving as the architect of the project.
Plans for the sprawling site include two 16-storey buildings, an eight-storey building, two six-storey buildings, a five-storey building, a three-storey townhouse building, and a six-storey hotel. In total, the City estimates that the overall concept plan could add 760 housing units to the site, on top of the hotel and over 10,000 sq. ft of commercial retail space.
Concept plan for the site. (D'Ambrosio Architecture + Urbanism)
Additionally, the project would add a new public road connecting Mill Street and Comox Road, as well as a new park, which would include a multi-use trail that travels to the existing Waterfront Walkway below Pearson Bridge.
In application documents, the entire project is being referred to as Millstone Waterfront, in reference to the Millstone River to the immediate north of the site.
Renderings of the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel redevelopment project. (D'Ambrosio Architecture + Urbanism)
The City of Nanaimo passed a new policy regarding Community Amenity Contributions (CAC) that came into effect on January 1, 2022, but the City notes that this rezoning application was received prior to that date, so the developer remains subject to the previous rate of $1,000 per residential unit. It's estimated that 142 more units could be achieved with the rezoning, compared to under the existing zoning, so the CAC value paid to the City would be $142,000.
However, the City says that the applicants recognize the scale of the project and have proposed a significant voluntary in-kind CAC in the form of a park, which the City values at $1,698,300, as well as other landscape improvements in the area valued at $584,478. The City says it supports these proposals because it provides a needed park to the neighbourhood and "exceeds what would typically be expected through rezoning."
The date for the new public hearing has not been set, but Lindsay said that staff are looking at a date in early April.