Save Georgia Park in Nanaimo – act now!

Several major concerns were raised by some councillors and the public about the land deal for the proposed Hilton Hotel which will occupy 10 and 28 Front Street and use up 60% of Georgia Park.  City staff has recommended that the City lease the park to the developer at no cost for an estimated 80 years.

Four key requests from the developer for the new Hilton Hotel are:

  • Increase in density (doubled the building area) [approved]
  • Increase in height (from 25 to 35 storeys) [approved]
  • Purchase the laneway for $475,000 [to be approved at September 29 council meeting]
  • Lease 60% of Georgia Park [to be approved by AAP or referendum or council]

While some councillors mulled the idea of a referendum on the issue of ‘leasing’ the park, Staff said that a referendum is not required, it’s too late to bring it forward for the election and even if a referendum was held, the City wouldn’t necessarily base their final decision on it.

Here is how it went down at the last council meeting on September 8th:

Bestwick:  … the park portion must go to referendum..?
Swabey:  … it would be up to council if you want to go to referendum or AAP [alternative approval process]
Johnstone:  … the laneway was not designated for traffic…
Staff:  … lane was dedicated in 1937 … to provide access to rear of a building…
Johnstone: …but for this particular purpose?
Staff: …the applicant is proposing to purchase the lane and consolidate it with the lot
McKay: … when disposing of a roadway there is no requirement for elector assent…am I correct?
Swabey: … there is no requirement for electoral assent
Kipp: …we do have to go to the public…my key thing is anytime we dispose of parkland we go to referendum and I don’t like AAP…I am concerned that we are selling the laneway before we give them the parkland…it’s not in the right order…
Pattje: …we are getting something that has four portions to it but in three separate portions; last week we had the height and  density. Today we have the laneway.  Next the parkland…which should go to referendum…all connected…like Kipp said it’s [backwards]…
Swabey: … the lane purchase if we authorize it tonight wouldn’t be closed…
Ruttan: …What is our pleasure at this point?
Bestwick: …if this laneway doesn’t pass 3rd reading tonight we can bring it back? …
Swabey: …if you turn down the bylaw [sale of the lane] tonight then the applicant would have to go back to the drawing board…
Ruttan: …motion seconded  by Anderson…motion before us is to [sell laneway] passes third reading.

In favour: Councillors McKay, Anderson, Johnstone, Bestwick, and Greves and Mayor Ruttan. Opposed: Councillors  Kipp, Brennan, and Pattje.

Discussion continued after vote passed to sell laneway:

Kipp: …throughout this process I never received a financial analysis.  What are the development cost charges; what is the taxation loss/cost, what do they get for lift?… What I have estimated is that this project will cost us $2.8 million in DCC costs; $10 million in taxes; the lift of 10 storeys is worth about $11 million for the extra 11 storeys we approved through rezoning…So what are the social, environmental, and financial components to this project? …
Swabey:  …we have had this discussion many times…
Johnstone: … can this council make the decision to go to a referendum or AAP process?
Swabey: … council can make a motion…
Johnstone: …this is such an important decision…I [will] be putting forward a notice of motion that the issue of the Hilton Hotel be brought forward to the electorate by the referendum process rather than the APP process…
Ruttan: …[warning] you will have to deal with staff to make sure if it works…
Brennan: …I move that the issue of the financial report issues that Kipp mentioned be reviewed by the development review committee.
Bestwick: …as chair of the Development Committee we will put it on the agenda tomorrow…
Swabey: … this request will not affect the Hilton project
Pattje: … I like the ‘sound’ of Johnstone’s motion …I will ask my question for the third time…because I have not received an answer…Why do people think a referendum tagged onto the November 15th election is NOT in the works because it is too late
Swabey: … in order to do it [referendum] and not make a mistake, we have to come up with the question…; we have to advertise…;  hold public open houses and road shows; …but I don’t think we can do it before the November 15th election… a referendum is possible at any time…the cost can be charged back to the developer… I would like to do it right and not have it fail…
Bestwick: … we should speed up the process and have it on ballot November 15th… then we don’t have to charge the developer for the question? ….
Swabey: …  that’s another point I didn’t mention we shouldn’t be doing the referendum until the rezoning is completed…so the [referendum] needs to wait…First council needs to decide on the land use…get on with the [sale] of the laneway and go to AAP… the land use is driving everything.. there is no sense doing a referendum and finding out that the public doesn’t want the park to be sold but you have already approved the rezoning application or vice versa you have to take the land use to a certain point…
Bestwick: …based on what you said then shouldn’t we be doing the referendum first?
Swabey: …the land use is the most important decision it involves the [sale] of the laneway and [sale] of the parkland so you need to be… you wouldn’t want to get ahead of yourself and have the land use to happen and then go out and see if you want to lease the parkland….
Bestwick: ..we don’t decide, isn’t it up to the electorate?
Swabey: … NO – it is up to you the council, even if it goes to referendum it is still up to council on what you want to do, it doesn’t matter how the public votes, it is just your way of gauging what the public thinks, [referendum] it is not mandatory
Mckay: …do we not have to have all the bylaws adopted concerning this project prior to six weeks before general voting day?
Swabey: …I am not aware of that.
Brennan: …point of order…this is a notice of motion… not the time for discussion. No one has any answers.
Ruttan: …Where are we? [laughter]

Questions raised by public:

Public: …will the sale of the laneway be considered prior to the lease of the parkland?
Staff: …we have had 3rd reading of selling the laneway already and it passed tonight.  So the laneway will be consolidated with the property. That will get final adoption by the next council meeting. Then we would bring forward the draft lease agreement for Georgia Park. Then council would decide if it is to go to AAP or referendum.

Public: So the sale of the laneway would be passed before the lease of the park would be approved?
Staff: Yes …

Public: So if the lease of the park falls through and the developer cancels the development then we will have increased the size and value of his property by the sale of the laneway, and by passing rezoning increases of floor and height areas? Would there be a covenant that would revert back to what it currently is if the development doesn’t happen on this property within a specified number of years? We have increased the value of the property.
Staff: …no sunset clauses, not possible.
Public: … not a good deal for us …

The City of Nanaimo could just as easily add the laneway to Georgia Park and make the park bigger. The terrible news is that we are about to lose 60% of a public waterfront park.  Let us Save Georgia Park. Parks are for the people.

This is an election year— email mayor& let them know you want to keep parks public and/or start a petition and help Nanaimo Save Georgia Park.