Thursday, September 04, 2014

Insight Hotel Development Passes Third Reading


For those who have not been paying attention, or only reading the local papers; a local company is attempting to put a deal together that would see a 330+ room hotel built at 10 & 28 Front Street.

It is being presented as a Hilton Hotel but the deal is really being put together by the developer who already owns the property and already has approval for a 25 storey residential condo on the same site.

In order to greatly increase the value of this site the owners are attempting to put together a deal to build a massive Hilton Hotel on the site which would be overlooking the harbour, and have access to the waterfront. A perfect location for a world class hotel, which has lots of support in the community.

There is a fly in the ointment however, and that is the fact the developer is also going to want to 'lease' some city owned parkland in order to have access to the waterfront. Of course giving a private business parkland is simply not something most residents take lightly so there is considerable opposition to the whole project based on the parkland portion of the deal.

At the public hearing as part of a Special City Council meeting held Sept. 4 in Shaw Auditorium the proponent presented their plans for the site, and residents spoke for and against the project. Those speaking for the project see it as nothing but positive that will become a mecca for world travelers from all over which will breath life and vitality into downtown Nanaimo.

Those opposed, object on several different levels, the first of which is the belief that a waterfront is no place for high rise buildings which block everyone's view and also blocks out the sunlight with a massive structure. The second issue is on the matter of leasing public land to a private business.

After listening to three hours of delegations, all of which, either for or against said the same thing, the public hearing portion of the meeting was adjourned and the regular portion of the meeting was convened.

Council then spent another hour trying to decide how to vote on the issue of third reading for the variances the developer was asking for. The variances in themselves are massive and require increasing the height of the building by 40 metres or 120 feet and nearly doubling the Floor Area Density.


Rather than making a decision on the spot, Councillor Brennan attempted to punt the matter down the road by asking the matter be referred back to staff for more public input. After another 20 minutes of back and forth on her referral motion which never did seem to make sense, Brennans' motion to refer was defeated.

Council then went on to give the bylaw third reading, which means they are approving increasing the height of this building by 120 feet. They approved increasing the old allowable height of 74.5 metres to 114.3 metres. This would put the new building about 120 feet higher than the Pacifica building next door.


During this whole convoluted exercise council was asked to approve a 50% height variance on the waterfront and an 80% increase in density. What didn't seem to matter nor was any part of this equation were any reasons to be opposed or in favour of the motion.

For me, a burning unanswered question is what is the cost-benefit to the Nanaimo taxpayers of the options placed before council with this motion.

What cost-benefits you may ask? The site is already zoned for a 25 storey residential condominium that requires no further variances and would produce a number of residential units. Given they are residential units they would immediately begin paying taxes to the city of Nanaimo. As the proposed project is a 'hotel' project it will qualify for a ten year tax exemption. So, what is the plus/minus to Nanaimo taxpayers depending on which option this council chooses.

As usual they were presented with incomplete information upon which to make a decision, and they made a decision anyway.



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