A master plan for the huge Sandstone project proposed for south Nanaimo will go to the public hearing stage.
City council, at a meeting Monday, Nov. 15, voted unanimously to pass the first two readings of an official community plan amendment application for the 294-hectare Sandstone properties that span both sides of the Trans-Canada Highway, both sides of Cedar Road and both sides of the Duke Point Highway.
There is already a Sandstone master plan in place, approved in 2009. The proposed master plan has not only changed since then, but has also changed since the OCP amendment application was made to the city in 2020.
The version presented to city council this week includes 2,200 residential units, but removes the urban node concept at Cedar Road and the Trans-Canada Highway, replacing it with neighbourhood commercial and medium-density residential. The plan also shows a significant increase to the amount of land that would be zoned for industrial use.
“The Sandstone master plan has been shaped and influenced by a number of important factors, from stakeholder engagement, the Reimagine Nanaimo process and in response to the city’s land-use inventory analysis,” said Georgia Desjardins, senior asset manager with Seacliff Properties, owner of Sandstone. “This update to the master plan is required to update, align and modernize the Sandstone plan accordingly.”
The proposed master plan includes 600 residential units in 74 hectares in the Cinnabar Valley, 600 units in 71 hectares in Cedar, and 1,000 units in 21 hectares in a precinct now being referred to as the Fielding neighbourhood centre. Another 90 hectares in the Duke Point area would be split between industrial and light industrial uses.
A staff report noted that the new master plan does not propose any “regional commercial” large-format retail, instead proposing mixed-use commercial “intended to serve the day-to-day needs of future Sandstone residents and employees and the existing residents of the Chase River and Cedar neighbourhoods.” The report noted that one of the reasons for the change is “to generate relatively less vehicle traffic, reducing the potential mitigation options required for the transportation network.”
The developer discussed “high-level” transportation plans that would include intersection upgrades along the Trans-Canada Highway and Cedar Road, a new “Sandstone Boulevard” connecting Cedar Road and the Duke Point Highway south of the landfill, and some other road connections to create redundancy routes in the area.
“We understand that the community wants action and [we] are committed to working with staff to be shovel-ready on priority projects as soon as possible,” said Teunesha Evertse, manager of planning with Keycorp Consulting, a project proponent.
Both city staff and the developer referenced a City of Nanaimo land inventory and capacity analysis prepared by Colliers International Consulting in 2020 which identified a need for more industrial land.
“I can assure you that there is a significant interest from our perspective in moving forward in the industrial development and I see a huge amount of opportunity in the industrial development landscape right now,” Desjardins said.
The proposed master plan shows 121 hectares of public parks, trails and greenways, as well as two hectares of land to be given to the school district for an elementary school and one hectare given to the city for a community centre.
Sandstone has also been in discussion with Snuneymuxw First Nation about a transfer of land along the Nanaimo River to the First Nation. Snuneymuxw Coun. Bill Yoachim spoke in support of the OCP amendment application and mentioned that the land was much needed by the First Nation.
Also speaking at this week’s meeting was Mike Parker, president of the Chase River Community Association, who supported the OCP amendment application moving to the public hearing stage. He did bring up concerns about neighbourhood safety related to transportation, and also asked councillors to push for Sandstone to revisit the city centre concept with regional commercial development, “intensive” retail and services and high-density residential, as well as light industrial.
“We are requesting that council commit to supporting these changes and give us our promised southern gateway to our city … We want an urban node for south Nanaimo,” Parker said.
Councillors Ben Geselbracht and Tyler Brown mentioned some hesitation around reviewing an OCP amendment application when the city was in the midst of an OCP review, with Geselbracht saying it was like putting the cart before the horse.
City general manager of development services Dale Lindsay said the Sandstone master plan will “very much inform how we move forward with these lands in the new OCP” and he noted that various iterations of Sandstone plans have envisioned similar residential neighbourhoods in Chase River and Cedar.
“I don’t want to say we’re counting on them, but we are including them within our needs demand for housing in the community long-term,” Lindsay said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said he’s seen a few versions of Sandstone plans over the years and said he likes this proposed master plan’s balance of residential, commercial and industrial and he appreciates the ways the developer has demonstrated co-operation with stakeholders.
“This is the first time I sort of feel confident that there is something here that we can work with and I’m fairly excited about it,” he said.
City staff said the public hearing would be held in January.