A tech company’s plan to set up shop on Nelson’s North Shore is under fire from residents who say they are worried about how the property could be used.
In February, Salmon Arm-based Valid Manufacturing, which designs and manufactures electronics, bought the former School District 8 board office building and the 2.59 acres it is on at 570 Johnstone Road for $1.12 million.
On a Zoom call including residents May 20, Valid’s CEO Chad Shipmaker said the company will use the location to develop electrical systems for vehicles and also manufacture wire harnesses, which are sheaths that protect the conductors on wires.
“The impact on the neighbourhood and the community from our operations, even with the peak of our three-year plan, will be dramatically less than what the school board office actually meant in terms of traffic, light, noise, water usage, all of that stuff,” said Shipmaker.
“So we felt it was an appropriate place us and we moved forward.”
Residents expressed support for Valid’s business at the meeting, but not for its application to the Regional District of Central Kootenay that if approved would rezone the property.
Currently, 570 Johnstone Road is zoned as Institutional by the RDCK, which allows for uses such as education facilities (the property was home to North Shore Elementary School in the 1960s and later the DESK program in the 1990s), community halls, churches, hospitals and cemeteries.
Valid has applied for M1 – Light Industrial zoning, which includes a long list of possible uses such as commercial workshops, cannabis cultivation and processing, warehousing and recycling depots.
Shipmaker said M1 was the only zoning category within the RDCK that would allow for an engineering office. But people on the call voiced concerns that if Valid changes its plans or sells the property, it could lead to industrial usage in a quiet residential neighbourhood.
“Once you change the zoning you’ve opened up a whole new scenario that then becomes uncontrollable over time. …,” said one Johnstone Road resident.
“The mere fact that you change the zoning from Institutional to Light Industrial automatically changes the nature and character of this community.”
Also at issue are a list of amendments the company is asking for, which Shipmaker says would establish a new type of zoning aimed at tech companies.
Those additional uses for the land could include tech research and development, a commercial daycare, a private and/or public utility, training facility and even work-live studios.
Shipmaker said the company had no intentions of using more than the building’s current footprint, but added the amendments could be additional services provided to Nelson-based staff in the future.
“They fit with the kind of business and the knowledge economy that is emerging in British Columbia,” he said.
Community members in turn argued against the extensive list of amendments. Several said they preferred site specific zoning, which Shipmaker said was his company’s preference as well.
RDCK CAO Stuart Horn told the Nelson Star in an email that the regional district has created site specific zoning in the past.
Valid’s zoning application has not yet been considered by the RDCK.
Pacific Insight, the former Nelson tech company that manufactured vehicle electronics, was also invoked several times by Shipmaker and program manager Derek Sandquist during the call.
Pacific Insight was purchased by the American company Methode in 2017. Less than two years later the company moved its operations to Mexico.
Shipmaker said the Pacific Insight building on Highway 3A west of Nelson was considered as a site for Valid, but it was too large, had a roof in need of repair and Methode was not open to discussing its sale.
Valid, he said, has since hired 10 former Pacific Insight staff including Sandquist, who was with Pacific Insight for 20 years.
“At the end of the day this is a story of a rural B.C. tech company investing in rural B.C. after a multi-national turned its back on that community,” said Shipmaker. “That’s all we’re trying to do here.”
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