Nelson medical clinic proposal clears first hurdle

An application to rezone three residential lots opposite the hospital emergency room entrance for a new medical clinic is moving ahead.

Nelson city council has given first reading to zoning changes that would let Ancron Medical Clinic put up a new building across from Kootenay Lake hospital’s emergency entrance.

An application to rezone three residential lots opposite the hospital emergency room entrance for a new medical clinic is moving ahead despite objections from two Nelson city councillors.

Ancron Medical Clinic wants to build a 15,000-square foot two-story building at 10 View Street that would include medical offices, a walk-in clinic, aesthetics clinic, dispensary, and small cafe.

The proponents say they have outgrown their present space on Baker Street and want to provide more convenient parking for patients. They’re asking that the land’s designation in the official community plan be changed from residential to public institutional and the zoning from residential to limited medical.

City staff note the proposal “challenges” sustainability objectives in the official community plan by directing commercial activity away from downtown, although it can also be seen as complementing the hospital.

Council granted first reading Monday to the requested amendments. Councillor Deb Kozak said she is comfortable with the project moving forward. “Some pieces need adjustment, but the application as a whole is a good possible fit for the neighborhood,” she said.

However, councillor Robin Cherbo called the project “quite substantial” and “too much for a residential location” while councillor Donna Macdonald said in her 19 years on council, it was the first development application she could not support.

“As much as we might try to call it multi-use institutional, to me it’s commercial,” she said. “It’s a commercial building that is renting space. If it were a smaller development with some offices, I would be much more comfortable, but this is stretching the definition of a health facility.”

Macdonald also said she believes the impact on the neighbourhood would be too great: “The rest is paved parking lot. If they were single family homes, you’d have yards and gardens.”

Councillor Paula Kiss supported the rezoning, saying the city will have more influence over what happens than if homes were built on the lots. “We can impose much stricter control about how it’s going to impact the neighbours,” she said. “I think they are in a more powerful position to ensure their homes are respected and privacy is not intruded upon.”

She saw “many potential positives” including improvements to the street and pedestrian safety that would be unlikely with residential development.

Neighbours concerned

The proposal has the blessing of both the city’s advisory planning commission and Interior Health, but was panned in a letter by two other physicians, Drs. Rodica and Trevor Janz, who live on Trevor Street, above the property.

“It is out of character for the residential neighborhood and Nelson generally,” they wrote. “Its style and size are more in keeping with a large city development.” They suggested the clinic would compete with the hospital’s emergency room and result in the “degradation” of a residential neighborhood.

Most people who attended an open house in March were in favour of the project, although immediate neighbors strenuously objected, concerned about extra traffic, noise, and the building’s height.

In an interview Wednesday, Dr. Andre Kirsten of Ancron Medical Clinic said based on the feedback, they redesigned the proposal, including adding underground parking and are looking at widening the street. “We’ve been working long and hard at this process and have really tried to address most of the issues that were raised,” he said.

A traffic study completed for Ancron concluded the new clinic would add 35 vehicles during peak morning hours. The consultant wrote: “The projected volume of additional traffic is not considered to be significant as it represents on average one vehicle movement every two minutes.”

Ancron, which has been around for four years, has four physicians and a walk-in clinic. In its new location it would potentially have six to eight physicians and also provide space for visiting specialists.

Kirsten disagreed that the project is more commercial than institutional. “This is made out to be a huge commercial building that rivals the size of hospital. It does not,” he said. “We’re trying to achieve a medical centre that will benefit our patients. I think this is a big plus for Nelson and will assist the hospital as well.”

He added the dispensary would be non-commercial and the cafe is included because there is no place at the hospital people can go for coffee while waiting in the emergency room.

The official community plan states “Hospital related services may appear on lands adjacent to the hospital grounds provided that the proposal meets the stated needs of the hospital, commits to a compatible structural/architectural physical presence within the established neighbourhood, and is supported by the market analysis completed as part of the Sustainable Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan.”

Second reading of the rezoning is conditional on Ancron providing its own market analysis, although city manager Kevin Cormack cautioned council that it may not produce much meaningful information. “It might be a little difficult to isolate how one building will impact our downtown,” he said.

A public hearing will also be scheduled.

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