A man mulls over proposed plans for a redesign of downtown Nelson. The plans were publicly protested by local businesses. Photo: Tyler Harper

2017’s top stories No. 6: Businesses decry downtown plans

A letter signed by 52 businesses protested the city’s downtown revitalization draft

Resentment over the state of downtown reached a tipping point in May.

Fifty-two local businesses signed a letter to city council asking to put a pin in its downtown revitalization plans until several issues including parking congestion, panhandling, drug use and graffiti were addressed.

Competing with online shopping and chain stores is made extra difficult, the letter said, “if your customer struggles to find parking, is accosted for money by an aggressive panhandler, trips over people sleeping on the sidewalk and then walks through a cloud of marijuana smoke, all the while observing the general decay of the ambience on their way to a store.”

The final draft of a plan to overhaul downtown, the first such endeavour since the 1980s, was unveiled in April. Its many additions included a pedestrian scramble at the intersection of Baker and Ward, changes to signage, the addition of pedestrian and bike lanes, and re-designed amenity areas.

The letter, however, argued cosmetic changes should be a secondary concern.

As the debate over the future of downtown Nelson continued, a report revealed homelessness is on the rise locally.

According to the ninth annual Report Card on Homelessness, bed stays at Stepping Stones Shelter went up 28 per cent over the previous year. More startlingly, 59 per cent of people in need of shelter were already residents of Nelson and the Kootenays.

Ann Harvey, the community co-ordinator of the Nelson Committee on Homelessness, said the report shows the city is changing for the worse.

“I think sometimes Nelson is a victim of its own successes in terms of being a destination community,” she said. “It’s just the reality here. Nelson has to decide whether it is going to serve all of the community or just some of the community.”

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