Nelson citizens present new ideas for Railtown

The Railtown stakeholder group presented its preliminary planning work to the public on Thursday.

Nelson resident John Paolozzi discusses the proposals for the Cottonwood Market with this son.

Nelson resident John Paolozzi discusses the proposals for the Cottonwood Market with this son.

A footbridge across the CPR tracks. A new Cottonwood market, the design a far cry from the old one. A linear park along Cottonwood Creek connecting to the lakeshore. Trees and slower traffic along Railway avenue. Respect for the industrial heritage of the area.

Those were a few of the preliminary ideas in the drawings and graphics lining the walls at a public open house on Thursday. The new meeting room at the restored CPR station was packed with engaged, curious and talkative Nelsonites. Several people from Modus, the consulting company that is facilitating the planning process, hung out at the various charts and maps, explaining and answering questions. People made written comments and submitted them for the next round of planning. The city has started a website for the Railtown planning process.

A before and after view of the “Railway precinct”

The ideas on the walls were the result of a two-day planning workshop attended this week by a stakeholder group of local residents and the design consultants. The ideas presented are not set in stone but are part of a process that will take several more months and more public consultation, with a final approval by city council in September. Even then, the resulting plan will be implemented in stages and could take decades.

“People should remember these are just ideas”

“I thought was a fantastic process,” said the Ecosociety’s Jesse Woodward who was part of the workshops. “I found it very educational and team oriented. You had people from every aspect of Nelson working on this, so I thought it was really wonderful. I think people should remember these are just ideas. We have generated a concept to say this is what it could be. People need to understand that and not be afraid of that. These are ideas and dreams.”

Ryan Martin and Chad Hansen check out the plans. (All photos by Bill Metcalfe)

Former city councillor Paula Kiss was part of the stakeholder group.

“I was really impressed with how the consultants captured everyone’s input and how seriously they took it,” she said, “and how they went out on site, checked things, measured things, looked at the feasibility of things. The potential of this neighbourhood has really been captured. It is a place that has soul: there is history, some industry, some creativity, a lot of nature, it has a creek. There are a lot of elements to this neighbourhood that could make it a beautiful cohesive unit.”

Chris Chart, who owns Selkirk Veterinary Hospital in the Railtown area, said, “The group did excellent work and had great ideas. I like the parkway along the creek people have been hoping for this for along time. I like the idea of slowing the traffic on Railway Ave. They are proposing the street become more of a boulevard and more pedestrian friendly. Managing parking is going to be a problem though. I like the idea of the extension of Baker past the Railway station and connecting it back to Government Road further west.”

Chart said he liked a proposal to “establish an art gallery in the old Gasworks administration building, that has been empty for the last few years. I think this would be a great use for one of Nelson’s really historic buildings, of which there are very few left in Railtown, and would allow the public to view art in a beautiful space which would not be accessible if it was being used by private business or as City offices.”

Not everyone was happy, though. Dean Fair, the owner of Cottonwood Autobody (in Railtown near the Rod and Gun Club) said he was not informed that the planning process was happening.

The stakeholders’ preliminary vision for the Cottonwood Market (All photos by Bill Metcalfe)

“The concept is not bad,” Fair said,but it would have been nice of the city to let us know what was going on. This is the first open forum they have had for businesses. I was not on the list. I feel I am getting pushed out. The map on the wall says my building is going to be an apartment building.”

Railtown ‘precincts’

The stakeholder group, led by Modus consulting, divided Railtown into five “precincts” representing the different activities present in, or envisioned for, the area. They are the market, industrial, live-work, railway, and heritage commercial precincts.

Some of the notable ideas contained in the group’s preliminary plan include:

1. Within the market precinct, a small park known as the Falls Lookout, on the west side of the creek near the Rod and Gun Club. “There is a really beautiful special place there,” Modus’ Joaquin Karakas said, “with some historic remnants of the footings of the old power generation activities there that have been overgrown. We would activate that space to draw the community in.”

2. A pedestrian overpass across the tracks beginning at the curve where the highway turns into Front St., and landing beside Cottonwood Creek where there would be a path to the waterfront.

3. A revamped highway-Baker intersection to make it more pedestrian friendly.

4. A parkway along the creek from the lake to the market. “We would embrace Cottonwood Creek and bring public activity closer to it,” Karakas said.

5. Greening up Railway Street and making it more attractive to pedestrians.

6. Introducing “pedestrian mews,” small areas with pedestrian and bike access only but with a mix of businesses and activities fronting onto it. “These could be light industry or light manufacturing,” Karakas said. “One of these would be in a public lane that runs through where the old market is, terminating at the new market. We are calling it Cottonwood Mews. Another location would be Gaswork Mews, behind the old gasworks building.”

7. The market will move further into the park (toward the highway) in a way that maintains the existing Japanese gardens. Rather than having a single structure it would be broken up into a series of kiosks focussed on a stage.

8. The live-work precinct would be located in vacant land at the foot of Baker St. beyond the train station. “We think this is not a blank slate,” says Karakas. “There is rich character and history, there is really good bones, they are gritty bones, they are industrial bones, but they are bones that provide a lot of structure and a lot of cues for what development should do. We see a mix of housing and diversity of employment and commercial buildings that could include light industry and manufacturing like food processing and value added, and a great venue for business incubation. It could include a mix of tech companies. One of the stakeholders said there is a real demand for that type of use and a lack of capacity of commercial buildings that would support it, so the vision for the live work precinct is to have a mix of these commercial uses at grade with a mix of housing types above.

A before-and-after of the market area.

“We don’t want anything too precious.”

City councillor Anna Purcell spoke enthusiastically about the proposed plan.

“I like the idea of a rain garden in a couple of key spots, creating these ditches that are filled with drain tile and that have indigenous plants that don’t mind getting their feet wet but are also drought resistant. Beautifying the walking areas, the increase in connectivity, is really interesting to me. The pathway loops and driving loops, also a real respect for the different layers in heritage in the area. I felt the consultants understood how we don’t want something that is too precious. We love beauty and nature and we have a very interesting industrial history and present. We have the rail yard which is still right there, Maglio’s is there, the auto body shop is there, so finding ways to incorporate those features and incorporate them in a vibrant and interesting way but at the same time having beautiful public spaces and public walkways. There is a lot to be excited about for sure.”