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Nelson Chamber of Commerce to build 55-unit Railtown residential development

Unique project will collaborate with employers to provide workforce housing

A six-storey, 55-unit mixed-use residential building with ground-level commercial units could change the face of Nelson’s Railtown district. 

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce has developed the project to be located adjacent to the restored CP Rail station and constructed with a prefabricated modular design and a mix of two-bedroom, one-bedroom and studio apartments. 

The building is being planned as workforce housing that would provide non-subsidized market rental units. 

The project is unique because employers would hold the head lease and then lease directly to the employees.

Tom Thomson, chamber executive director, said businesses in Nelson have long been hampered in hiring new employees from out of town because there is so little housing in Nelson. 

“If you can’t find a place to live you certainly can’t work here,” he said. “A lot of employers have been having a really tough time, and we’re hoping to be a part of that solution.” 

The project would be financed by B.C. Builds, a provincial government program whose stated goal is to “speed up the delivery of new homes for middle income working people throughout B.C.”

Because of the involvement of employers in providing housing for their workers, the Nelson building is considered a B.C. Builds demonstration project. 

The chamber is also working with the developer Workforce Housing Solutions Inc. and the Nelson-based Stanley Office of Architecture. 

Thomson said the chamber owns the land and is donating it to the project, but that eventually it might create a non-profit housing society to take over the building.

Thomson said B.C. Builds boasts that it will move a housing project from concept to construction in 18 months. The chamber has been in discussions with the agency since last summer and is close to getting preliminary project approval, but Thomson could not commit himself to a specific construction start date except to say it could be late summer before they apply to the city for a building permit. 

He said there are some regulatory hurdles and negotiations to overcome first, including a release from the Ministry of the Environment, required because the land is a former industrial site. 

The chamber is also in discussions with CPKC (formerly CP Rail) to ensure proper site access is maintained.

At Nelson City Council’s May 4 meeting, council agreed to the chamber’s request for variances to change the building setback, height, and the amount of amenity area required by the city. The changes were requested, the chamber said, to compensate for the cramped space available for the building and the nearness of the rail line. 

Materials from planning staff at the meeting stated that the proposed development meets Nelson’s Official Community Plan housing objective “to encourage affordable multi-unit housing to be located in areas without steep slopes, within reasonable walking distance of services such as a commercial area, a bus line, a park or recreation centre, and/or near medical facilities.” 

The development is also consistent with the city’s Railtown Sustainable Action Plan, completed in 2016. 


B.C. launches new agency to build middle-income rental housing quicker 

Capacity and scale questions greet new BC Builds program 

Nelson council approves Railtown development plan 

Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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