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Covenant changing, highrises no longer coming to north Nanaimo property

City held public hearing for covenant amendment application for 6340 McRobb Ave.
Artist’s renderings of two six-storey buildings proposed for McRobb Avenue. Nanaimo city council voted to amend the covenant on the property, which was previously zoned for 20-storey highrises. (Salehi Architect Inc. images)

The notion of two 20-storey towers in Nanaimo’s north end is no more.

Nanaimo city council, at the end of a public hearing Nov. 16, voted to approve a covenant amendment for 6340 McRobb Ave. that will make way for two six-storey residential buildings on the property rather than two highrises.

The property was re-zoned as high-density residential in 2004 to allow for two 15-storey buildings, and re-zoned again in 2009 to increase the allowable height to 20 storeys. However, the current developer, which has already started construction on Phase 1 at the site, has a reduced scale in mind for Phase 2 and 3. Two 20-storey towers could have accommodated 308 units, but the two six-storey buildings now envisioned are proposed to include 266 units.

“Typically, of course, council is used to seeing requests for additional density, but in this case, the application in front of you would actually see a decrease in that unit count … [and] council is likely much more accustomed to seeing requests for additional building height, not less,” said Scott Mack, managing partner of Townsite Planning, speaking on behalf of the property owner at the public hearing.

He added that Nanaimo’s new city plan targets six to 12 storeys in that neighbourhood.

“Therefore, our revised proposal is in fact more consistent and much more in keeping with the new OCP and certainly more consistent with the existing neighbourhood context,” he said.

The applicant is proposing that all required parking be underground, and asking that the minimum setback from the north property line be reduced from 17 metres to 7.5m to accommodate the larger building footprint. Mack said the requested setback is “very typical and standard” for multi-storey residential buildings both in Nanaimo and other jurisdictions.

Among the residents who spoke in opposition to the covenant amendment at the public hearing was Bill Manners, president of the Dover Community Association. That association also made a written submission, asking for city council to hold off on making a decision until there was “meaningful” community consultation to address concerns about traffic, parking, the footprint of the buildings, and the potential for park land on the property.

Coun. Erin Hemmens said the city wouldn’t encourage negotiations with a neighbourhood association about a development, and said that’s not the appropriate role for neighbourhood associations. She said she thinks that part of the city is well-suited to handle more housing development.

“I think if we took the pulse of the broader community, six storeys fits that area much better than 20 storeys,” Hemmens said.

Several council members expressed similar views, including Mayor Leonard Krog and Coun. Ben Geselbracht, who both said 20-storey towers would be “inappropriate” there, and Coun. Janice Perrino, who said six-storey buildings will represent “much less intrusion for the neighbourhood.”

Council members also pointed to the need for housing, with Krog saying that there needs to be further densification in Nanaimo, and Coun. Paul Manly agreeing.

“We are looking at densification in many neighbourhoods across the community in order to keep our urban containment boundaries and concentrate urban growth within those boundaries,” he said. “It’s difficult to have this kind of development going on in your neighbourhood, especially when you’ve gotten used to having things the way they are … It’s part of the process that everybody’s going through in Nanaimo as we increase density as more and more people are moving to this region. We are the fifth-fastest-growing community in Canada right now and we have to make room for people.”

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong and Coun. Ian Thorpe both expressed concern about changing a covenant, which they said is something a home buyer trusts will remain in place.

“People do their due diligence when they buy, and covenants, to me, are a legal document that people put a lot of faith into and believe,” Armstrong said.

Krog argued that no one has authority over a covenant except the parties bound by it, the city and the land owner.

Council voted 7-2 to amend the covenants on the property and allow a development application to proceed there.

READ ALSO: 6-storey buildings now planned for north Nanaimo lot zoned for 20-storey highrises

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