In February, Valid Manufacturing purchased the former school district office at 570 Johnstone Rd. Its zoning application for the property has been voted down by the Regional District of Central Kootenay. Photo: Tyler Harper

In February, Valid Manufacturing purchased the former school district office at 570 Johnstone Rd. Its zoning application for the property has been voted down by the Regional District of Central Kootenay. Photo: Tyler Harper

RDCK directors vote against tech company’s zoning proposal for former School District 8 land

Directors cited community backlash as the main reason for their opposition

The future of a tech company’s proposed home on Nelson’s North Shore is unknown after the Regional District of Central Kootenay voted against a proposed zoning amendment.

Salmon Arm-based Valid Manufacturing applied for a new type of zoning that would allow it to set up shop in the former School District 8 board office building at 570 Johnston Rd. Valid purchased the 2.59-acre property for $1.12 million in February.

The company, which designs and manufactures electronics, said it wants to use the property to manufacture wire harnesses, or sheaths that protect conductors on wires, as well as develop electrical systems for vehicles.

But doing so meant it would need to change the property’s zoning from Institutional to Light Industrial M1, a change that provoked backlash from nearby home owners in the residential area who were concerned by the broad uses the new zoning could allow for and wished to retain public access to a field next to the empty school board office.

To allay those concerns, Valid sought a site-specific zoning amendment that would only allow for offices and the manufacturing of parts and assembly.

But on Oct. 21, RDCK directors were nearly unanimous in voting down the proposal. Only Janice Morrison, who represents the City of Nelson, and Salmo Mayor Diana Lockwood voted in favour.

Area F director Tom Newell, whose electoral area includes Valid Manufacturing’s property and also voted against the amendment, said public pressure swayed the vote.

“Based on the staff recommendation, I believed that under the current context the neighbourhood opposition needed to be honoured,” he said.

Valid CEO Chad Shipmaker said he was disappointed by the vote, and that the company would need to reassess its plans for the property.

“It will not be a part of a core business, but we own it obviously so we will look at how to maximize value,” said Shipmaker. “So it’s too early to tell what that means. We haven’t spent a lot of time working on that because we were hopeful that it would be an engineering facility.”

Shipmaker added it is unlikely the company looks for other locations in Nelson.

Valid made an economic argument for setting up shop on the North Shore, where it planned to employ up to 40 people, and had letters of support from the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, business community and some residents.

The company said in May it had also hired 10 former employees of vehicle electronics manufacturer Pacific Insight, which closed in 2019 after nearly 20 years of operations just outside Nelson.

Newell said there’s no matrix that helps directors weigh economic benefits against community voices. Valid’s plans for the property, he agreed, were not far removed from what School District 8 previously used it for.

“I’m sure from what I read, the thing that swayed planning was the neighbourhood resistance to the rezoning proposal. So in a sense, it appears that public sentiment in this case has the trump card.”

The debate over the property was also notable for how toxic the discourse became.

During a public hearing held Sept. 22, Newell was forced to shut down several confrontational questions from residents that he said were out of order.

Area E director Ramona Faust opposed the zoning amendment, but chastised the community for its behaviour throughout the process.

“This was very difficult to watch staff and a fellow director, and in the beginning myself, described as something as we are definitely not,” Faust said prior to the vote. “I would hope we can all treat one another with a little more respect when we disagree.”

READ MORE: Former Pacific Insight building listed for sale

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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