Thor’s Pizza owner Lorri McCready says she appreciates the fact that the City of Nelson and BC Transit met with her and other business owners online on April 8 about the proposed transit exchange slated for their block.
She just doesn’t think it will change their plans.
“I don’t get the impression that council is very interested at all in putting the brakes on this,” said McCready.
Seven business located around the Victoria-Kootenay intersection and one resident attended the meeting which was facilitated by the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce. Also present were two invited city council members, one resident of the 300 block, two city staff members, and two employees of BC Transit.
All of the businesses were against the location and the design of the proposed transit hub. They had already written letters to council outlining their objections: loss of parking and loading zones, traffic congestion, the city’s decision-making process, perceived lack of consultation with businesses, and a public washroom that they say would end up being a hangout for homeless people.
The city’s chief financial officer Colin McClure told the meeting the project has been in the works for years.
“I’m hearing that some people are feeling that they were not engaged,” he said. “We’ve been engaged with the community for a number of years on this, and we have selected this as a location.”
He said the decision now was simply which of three designs to choose. The details of parking and loading zones could then be negotiated and mitigated, with the help of local businesses.
City council could, however, revisit the entire issue and start over again, if it wishes, McClure added.
A letter and a survey
In December, the city sent a letter to 38 businesses, property owners and residents in the immediate area, inviting them to an online meeting in January to discuss the transit exchange.
Six people attended. At the April 9 meeting, most business owners stated that before the December letter, they had never heard of the transit exchange plans.
“The first we’ve heard of this was in January 2021,” said Debbie Sonnichsen, manager of the Kootenay Medical Centre at 601 Kootenay St. “I just feel blindsided. Due diligence, from our perspective, hasn’t been done.”
In February, the city ran a survey for downtown residents and businesses, asking which of three designs they preferred, and got 145 responses, with an ambiguous result. The response “unsure/none” and two of the proposed designs each got roughly one-third of the votes.
Urban design strategy 2017
In a series of public meetings and workshops held in 2017 that resulted in the city’s Downtown Urban Design Strategy, the need for a transit exchange was identified by the public, and the 300 block was recommended in the final strategy document.
So city planners and BC Transit set to work on draft plans, based on an accepted transit design best practice that always places transit exchanges in downtown locations. Less central locations like Railtown or the mall would be less efficient, more expensive, and less likely to attract riders, they said. The 400 block of Victoria, it was added, is too narrow and would require the construction of retaining walls on the south side to widen it.
McClure said the 300 block has fewer problems than any other location in Nelson’s downtown, including the fact that a significant stretch of that block (including the government building and the library) has no residences, businesses or driveways.
Council meetings and decisions
Following the 2017 urban design meetings, the next public appearance of the transit exchange concept was at council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on June 22, 2020, at which planning staff recommended the 300 block of Victoria as a location, but no decision was made.
At a city council meeting in October, council voted on and passed a resolution “to pursue supporting federal and provincial funding for the construction of transit exchange on Victoria Street, and further that staff begin stakeholder engagement as required to support identifying a preferred transit exchange concept.”
That resolution, the first actual vote on the transit exchange, designates Victoria Street but not the 300 block.
Public consultation is tricky
Chamber executive director Tom Thomson says the process of the transit exchange illustrates the problems inherent in public consultation.
“It is never easy to do public outreach. There are always challenges in how you do it, how much is it going to cost, should you do online surveys, send out letters, knock on doors,” he told the Star after the April 9 meeting.
“When we have done things as a chamber it is more labour intensive, but literally going and knocking on doors works. People appreciate the fact that you are taking the time.”
Every year the City of Nelson does a public presentation of its new budget and publicizes it beforehand, Thomson says.
“Three to five people show up. But 300 will complain later.”
City council is slated to choose a design for the transit exchange at its regular meeting on April 13.