Delays in the Regional District of Nanaimo's zoning-approval process may force the owners of a project that's receiving unprecedented public support to walk away from their Nanoose Bay plans, says the president of the Fairwinds Community Association.
"It has been going so slowly, the investors have begun to consider their options," said Gerry Thompson. "We think it could be going a lot quicker . . . I think we are at a critical stage."
More than 200 people attended a meeting Thursday night in Nanoose Bay to ask questions about the zoning of project, which Fairwinds has said would start with a "seaside village" development at Schooner Cove.
On October 25, 2011 the RDN board of directors adopted two separate OCP amendment bylaws to integrate the Lakes District and Schooner Cove Neighbourhood Plans into the Nanoose Bay OCP.
The Schooner Cove plan allows for shops, a full-service marina, pedestrian-oriented public open spaces and a maximum of 360 condo units. The Lakes District Neighbourhood Plan includes a maximum of 1,675 single dwelling and multi-dwelling residential units, which represents the remaining balance of the 2,500 dwelling units permitted in the OCP for what the RDN calls the Fairwinds Urban Containment Boundary.
Thompson said members of his association are not pleased with the pace at which regional district staff have worked on this file. "There has been virtually no closure on major issues regarding the zoning," said Thompson.
Thompson also said there have been target dates set for movement on the development but RDN staff "have missed them all, with apparently no sense of consequences."
"The level of support for this proposal has been unprecedented. The support is solid — it has not deteriorated over time. It's a popular project."
Thompson said residents are in favour of the development for a number of reasons, including improved access to the waterfront, local shopping opportunities that will reduce the reliance on automobiles and the "amount of employment and general economic benefit."
Further delays, said Thompson, could "effectively poison the investment climate (in Nanoose Bay) for decades to come."
George Holm, RDN director for Nanoose Bay, said last week he believes the hold-up is with the provincial Ministry of Transportation (MOT). Holm said before any zoning can be approved, the ministry must sign off on the developer's plans to have roads and sidewalks that are more narrow than what's considered standard.
Thompson said he doesn't believe it's the MOT that is causing any delays.
"That's a completely resolvable issue," said Thompson in interviews with The NEWS on Thursday and Tuesday. "There's nothing new about it. The ministry of transportation has indicated it can be resolved. I'm sure they (RDN directors and staff) mean well, but that (the assertion the MOT is holding up the process) is actually not true."
Thompson said Tuesday the meeting Thursday night included some frank discussion.
"The people were very clear to their government that they were not happy with the way things are unfolding," said Thompson about the RDN's plan to have the zoning issues ironed out by early 2014. "We would like to see this matter wrapped up by the end of the year."
Geoff Garbutt, the RDN's general manager of strategic and community development, said Monday the application is "complicated and time consuming" and "we are working as effectively as we can."
Garbutt said the plan right now is to have the first reading of zoning bylaws in front of the RDN board in November and, if the bylaws pass first and second readings, a public hearing in January, 2014. Garbutt said the applicant indicated to him they wanted to see a public hearing by November of this year.
"We're only a couple of months apart," said Garbutt. "If we can get issues sorted out, we may be able to accelerate the timeline."
The Fairwinds development is owned by the B.C. Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), which manages public sector pension plans. A company named Bentall Kennedy manages the development.
Russell Tibbles, Bentall Kennedy's vice president for development and operations at Fairwinds, sent this comment to The NEWS by email on Monday:
"With regard to applications to the RDN . . . there are still a number of RDN comments that we're waiting for, or that have yet to be provided to us," Tibbles wrote. "We are hopeful that a schedule can be established with the RDN that sees these applications reach public hearing by November 2013. The Schooner Cove and Lakes District Neighbourhood Plans — adopted in 2011 as part of the RDN's Nanoose Bay Official Community Plan — reflect a fantastic shared vision for our community's future, with broad community benefits. We hope that all involved can get on board to allow this vision to move from paper to reality."