Car dealership proposal moves to public hearing despite 'serious concerns' over location

By Dominic Abassi
February 26, 2019 - 2:38pm Updated: February 26, 2019 - 3:13pm

The now vacant lot on Wills Rd. along the Island Hwy. where the owner wants to build two car dealerships. Staff say it's a poor fit.Spencer Sterritt/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — There will be a public hearing over a disputed rezoning application pitting economic development and job creation against City staff's wishes and community planning.

On Monday night, Nanaimo Council voted unanimously to send Ontario-based GAIN Auto Group's application to a public hearing. GAIN is seeking rezoning to allow for a Porsche and Subaru dealership on the site of the former Long Lake Nurseries, on Wills Rd. along the Island Hwy. Following the public hearing, the application will be put to a Council vote.

In an unusual step, City staff recommended Council deny the application, submitting a lengthy report outlining "serious concerns" about the impact of the development and several inconsistencies between the proposal and the official community plan (OCP).

Manager of current planning Lainya Rowett said car dealerships are best suited for areas of town where they already exist and the long-term vision for the Wills Rd. area calls for medium-to-high density residential.

"The OCP's vision of a sustainable community pictures homes located near shops, schools, recreation, work and other destinations with convenient opportunities for walking, cycling or taking transit," she said. "It's critical we maximize opportunities to develop sites that are designated for mixed-use developments already to their highest and best use."

Rowett said approving the proposal would deviate from the plan to make Nanaimo a "progressive, urban and cultural community." The report referenced nearly 650 residential units either existing or in development in the immediate vicinity of Wills Rd.

Staff brought the issue in front of the previous Council in September 2018, asking for direction on whether to proceed with the application because it was so inconsistent with the City's vision for the area. The majority of that Council spoke heavily in favour of the project after hearing supportive presentations from a consultant speaking on behalf of GAIN and the CEO of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce.

Both the consultant and Chamber CEO once again spoke in support of the project on Monday night, taking issue with staff's opposition to the project and touting the creation of 70 jobs and $10 million in economic investment.

After initially saying he was surprised by staff's disapproval of the "well thought out" application with "a lot of benefits" last September, coun. Ian Thorpe said Monday he was in an awkward position with reservations both ways.

"With all due respect to the need to create jobs and the economic card that's being played...that's well and good but we have to be cognizant of the best use of this property for the City overall," Thorpe said.

Mayor Leonard Krog said he appreciated staff and the local neighbourhood association want to see residential development on the property, but referenced a Rolling Stones lyric, saying "sometimes you can't get what you want, but you get what you need."

"Living here as long as I have, that would probably be one of the last places I would want to occupy a for-rental accommodation or residential accommodation unless I was stuck well at the back and buffered from the highway."

Several other councillors expressed reservations about the project but agreed it should move forward to a public hearing process. Staff said the item is expected on the agenda for the March 14 meeting.

— with files from Spencer Sterritt


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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