Saturday, August 16, 2014

email to Larry Beasley,
Former YVR Chief Planner re: Development Threat To Nanaimo Waterfront Park

Larry Beasley
From: Frank Murphy 
Subject: Nanaimo's downtown waterfront park

Date: August 16, 2014 at 7:52:47 PM PDT
Cc: David Witty, Wally Wells, Pam Shaw

Hi Larry, contacting you from Nanaimo assuming I have your correct email address. I attended and very much enjoyed your presentation here earlier this year as part the exciting South Downtown Waterfront Initiative the leadership of which, as you know, Dave Witty has skillfully assumed. I’ve been posting developments of the Initiative and examples of waterfront revitalizations that have happened or are happening elsewhere at

I remember how taken you were with our wonderful downtown waterfront public areas of promenades, park areas and the array of uses including the boat basin and residential units that integrate with the public sphere. I, and most Nanaimoites love and value highly this brilliant community asset.

There has been a development which threatens this parkland that I thought you would like to hear about. There’s been for the last number of years a derelict construction site — at the top of the hill near the lagoon, if you recall that area. The developer has now come forward with a proposal to build a 35 storey 300 room hotel on the site. The massing is considerable: FAR of 12. The proponent says they have a bit of a problem: their project is too big for their site. Rather than scaling back the size of the project, they have applied for a lease of the adjoining parkland allowing them to build loading docks and restaurant patios and a “grand staircase” down to the waterfront. They also proposed, and have received Council approval, to purchase a thin strip adjoining their site which was designated “lane-way". They propose to contribute to the cost of upgrading another large portion of the park to serve as an extension of the hotel’s grounds.
This has come in front of Council here in the sleepy days of August and Staff are recommending Council use the Alternative Approval Process to meet the requirements to seek voter assent to privatize parkland.
These links will take you to the Staff report presented to Council and an editorial in one of the local papers that addresses some concerns.
I fear that before people realize what’s at stake, we could loose a large portion of our beloved waterfront park.
Your thoughts and counsel would be very much appreciated.

— Frank Murphy

Please click on the heading of the post to see comments...


Anonymous said...

Let’s start by acknowledging what most of us know, that downtown Nanaimo’s walkability is the hallmark of an outstanding town plat unmatched in the west. In Canada, I have not found anything like except for the Citadel in Quebec, dating to the 1600s.

People are beginning to understand and appreciate walkability as one of the tools for achieving reductions in the carbon footprint.

Another aspect of the Nanaimo Downtown that provides it with a comparative advantage to other places is the proximity of the E & N Railway. Commuter rail offers advantages that we have not yet been able to capitalize in the Fraser Valley and in southern Vancouer Island.

Turning to this latest proposal, I am saddened to see that people’s imaginations are still shackled to tower urbanism when it is plainly obvious that towers will under perform sociallly, environmentally and economically. By building in a manner that is out of keeping with the exceptional tradition of Nanaimo, this project will be another log in the eye of the commuty’s future. All so that a handful can reap maximum profits.

The same scheme built as a tower-on-its-side could provide all the services, all the employment and just as much wealth to the developer. Yet it could achieved one more goal. By building in a manner that is respectful and amplifies local traditions, the town plan and the exquisite local landscape, the project would benefit by becoming a part of a greater whole.

Modern architecture has sought to build free-standing monuments to itself. Good architecture has always built on the spirit of community.

Citizens are taking notice.

There is a revolt growing in North Vancouver, Vancouver and the Fraser Valley against the Tower-and-Skytrain extension of the old suburban paradigm. We see a much more viable option. You can read about it here.

I urge Nanaimoites to continue to fight the good fight. Urbanism is endlessly malleable. It will absorb the worst mistakes and correct for the better. The history of urbanism shows us that the great sites fare best.

Frank Murphy said...

Thanks Lewis. Much appreciated! The other element of the privatizing sections of the waterfront park is even more objectionable. The use of a corner off Front Street, the area with the highest elevation and a truly stunning view of the park and our beautiful harbour looking towards Newcastle Island and beyond. Because the project has not been designed to fit on its own property, the developer wants this part of the park for a utilitarian hard-surface loading dock area. I wondered aloud talking with these chaps this morning, whether a true park amenity, a public square, a cafe patio, an urban garden could be designed to that also skilfully incorporates the loading dock and accommodates the electrical equipment that’s there now, this function probably below grade. Here’s the extraordinary thing they told me: they said that that basically was what had been presented to the City. It’s not that difficult a challenge for experienced and talented landscape architects. The City rejected their idea and instead again said: why don’t we lease the area to you and we’ll wash our hands of it. I don’t know on what grounds they rejected it but I sure would like to know

Frank Murphy said...

Talked to a couple of guys at the site this morning. Identified themselves as “agents” of Insight, the owner of the property. One a land surveyor. We had a terrific chat and they were able to give me some valuable background information about the negotiations between the City and Insight.

Nutshell, in their view, the City’s insistence on connectivity through the project to the waterfront is at the heart of the challenges at the harbour side of the hotel. This connectivity has been included in the design and Insight were fine with doing that. Problem is once the pedestrian traffic is encouraged from Front St to the waterfront, you have the elevation to deal with. New design challenge then: you will need a staircase or some design feature that allows for folks to get from there to here. And this of course has to go through Georgia Park. All good.

No insurmountable problem really but the City says: no way we want to pay for that and maintain it. So the City tries to shirk its responsibility to bring a long needed upgrade to the park and creates the standoff. Insight says well if we had control over that area to enhance our project with patios and fountains and a staircase maybe we could make that work. So City says, why don’t we lease it to you and we’ll wash our hands of it.

In the end dereliction of the City’s duty to protect and enhance parkland. They plead cost of course but we should realize they’re actually talking about spending priorities and how one City department is set against the other to compete for available funds. Take a quick review of the spending priorities of this City Hall over the last 6 years. The Annex alone, including the loss of the value of the old Annex incurred by abandoning it. and Bowen Rd projects to move “congestion” a couple of blocks including the ill-conceived Boxwood connector project come in at about $40 million. That would pay for a lot of community centres and for upgrading our oldest and most frequented City parks.

Frank Murphy said...

Lewis N. Villegas said...

The complaint that there isn't enough money to either build or maintain a pedestrian connection through the changes in elevation at Front Street, or any other time that 'money' is used as the reason why the City is not listening, and strikes a posture of inflexibility, should be weighed against the argument that the towers are being approved for the money they will net the City.

This is just simply another of the reasons why we shouldn't plan our cities—and especially our historic cities—one project at a time. Of course, that's exactly what the tower typology demands.

I encourage readers that did not look at the post I linked in my response above to have a peek. Nanaimoites and Islanders reading this site may take encouragement from the fact that we are seeing 'revolts' in many places in the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley.

It may yet turn out that the upcoming municipal election turns into a revolt against towers in the neighbourhoods in Vancouver, in particular, and a lack of good planning in the neighbourhoods in general.

That is the message that we need to understand. It is not just the case that these huge behemoths will distort our cities for centuries to come; and that the only ones that are profiting from these ventures are the developers themselves; but there is the further concern of our City Halls stuck in one mode of thinking.

As a consequence ideas that may be truly vital to the health of our communities slip by. For example, the dawning realization that the best way to achieve reduction in the carbon footprint is to introduce changes to make the suburbs more walkable.

Or in the case of Nanaimo - Victoria, the opportunity represented by the E&N Railway.