Nelson City Council approved the rezoning of the Ancron medical clinic site last evening following a public hearing.
Council gave the green light to changing the zoning of the property on View Street across from the emergency ward from low density residential to institutional, along with a corresponding amendment to the Official Community Plan, to allow Dr. Andre Kirsten to construct a two-storey building for a medical centre.
At the hearing, the main speakers were Kirsten, along with his architect Cal Meiklejohn, and the project’s main opponent, Dr. Trevor Janz, who is an emergency room physician at Kootenay Lake Hospital and a residential neighbour of the new development.
Rezoning applications require a formal public hearing so neighbours and other people who may be affected can have their say. The Ancron project has already gone through a lot of discussion at council, in the city planner’s office, and at a public open house.
During the hearing, Meiklejohn and Kirsten outlined the concessions they have made to the neighbours over the past year including increasing setbacks and landscaping, lowering the building height to two stories in front and one in the back, reducing ventilation and heating noise by putting those systems inside the building, commissioning a traffic study that found that congestion would not be a problem, commissioning a business study that found no disadvantages for Nelson businesses in moving Ancron from its present downtown office to the View Street site, agreeing to create a sidewalk along View Street adjacent to the building and also a crosswalk, putting some of the parking underground, and agreeing to more parking spaces than required by the city.
Kirsten explained that his clinic and the adjacent hospital would create a medical “campus” on View Street that would attract visiting specialists so patients did not have to travel so far.
Janz argued that specialists are not likely to visit Nelson unless they are given free office space, and they are not likely to move here either, because that is up to the Interior Health Authority which regulates the placement of specialists based on demographics and not of office space availability.
“This clinic will not add new medical services to Nelson, and will not mean new services at the hospital,” Janz said.
Janz also said several other clinics in Nelson are trying to recruit doctors and have empty office space, so there is no need for more. He said the health authority has identified that Nelson needs four more family physicians but that the new Ancron clinic would have room for up to 15, and he questioned why its number of square feet per doctor appears to be so high.
Kirsten has said the clinic will house from six to nine doctors.
“This building will almost double the amount of available space for doctors in Nelson,” Janz said. “This could mean 15 doctors moving up from downtown, and their patients. It is appropriately sized to accommodate all the family doctors in Nelson under one roof.”
There was some back-and-forth at the hearing about number of doctors and the building’s capacity, with no clear resolution.
In any event, Mayor Deb Kozak said in an interview after the hearing that a re-zoning hearing does not look at the viability of the proposed business, only at whether the land and the neighbourhood are suited to it.
“Council’s purview (in a zoning hearing) is to define what activity or commerce can take place on the site. It about making a development fit in the community. What takes place inside, as long as it is legal, is not our concern.”
Janz extrapolated beyond his speculation that the building would house 15 doctors to create a dire parking scenario: 15 physicians at five patients an hour means 75 patient visits per hour, doubled to account for arriving and leaving, resulting in 150 vehicles trips in and out per hour, he said.
Kirsten’s response is that there would not be that many physicians, and that a professional traffic study he commissioned said there will be no significant increase in congestion.
“I am asking you to put 80 per cent of the parking underground so there is not parking around neighbours’ kitchen windows, to avoid degrading the properties around you,” Janz said. “It is not fair to ask to have a Canadian Tire parking lot beside them.”
Later in his presentation he likened the project to the West Edmonton Mall.
Kirsten said the building would have to be several stories higher to make underground parking affordable.
Asked after the meeting whether council members had heard these arguments before or whether they were new, Kozak said they had heard them, although the new councillors may have been less familiar than those who were re-elected. During the meeting, Councillor Michael Dailly assured Janz and Kirsten that council had carefully considered all the information given to them over the past few months.
Two members of the public spoke in favour of the clinic, as did two Nelson physicians, Dr. Andrew Murray and Dr. Svetoslav Gueordjev.
A majority of council voted in favour of the rezoning, with only Councillor Cherbo voting against it, based on his concerns about traffic congestion, especially in the winter, around the emergency ward. Councillor Janice Morrison was absent.
After the meeting, Kozak spoke positively about the outcome.
“I think council took a long and thoughtful look at this development,” said Kozak, “and council was thorough in researching and asking questions and the proponent was very open to those questions, and I am pleased with the outcome. We have done our due diligence on this project and I think it will be a good one for the community. I think this is probably one of the most cooperative proposals that has come forward.”