Nelson City Council at its April 13 meeting decided to stick with the 300 block of Victoria Street for its planned transit exchange.
But council committed itself to detailed discussions with affected businesses and residents near the Victoria and Kootenay intersection to find ways to deal with their issues of parking, loading zones, congestion, traffic flow, property values, and the effects of a new public washroom.
City planning staff will meet with the businesses, try to find collaborative solutions, and report back to council on the results, with no timeline set.
The council discussion revolved around questions of long-term planning versus short-term consultation. While it may be true that the transit exchange has been in the planning stages for a decade, with public input and detailed research, is it also true that in the past few years communication with the affected businesses and residents has been too little too late?
Councillor Cal Renwick, with support from Councillor Keith Page, advocated starting over and reconsidering other locations.
“We have great transit ridership now,” Renwick said. “I’m not sure we are going to get more ridership just because we have a fancy new transit station.”
He said the current businesses near the Victoria and Kootenay intersection have not been treated fairly.
“The small businesses that we’re affecting here are part of the lifeblood of the city. Nothing happens until a product or service is sold. We depend on those small businesses, and I just don’t think that they’ve had a fair shake.”
Page agreed, saying, “I think we have gotten ahead of ourselves here.” He suggested the planners should look into the possibility of the 700 block Baker Street for the transit exchange.
Robyn Clarke, co-owner of Kootenay Health Services at 602 Kootenay St., in an email to the Nelson Star following the meeting, said she thought Renwick’s and Page’s approach was the correct one.
“The city is still not addressing the foundational issue of the complete absence of consultation about location options with those most affected by their proposal and with the community as a whole,” she said in an email to the Nelson Star after the meeting.
Council asked James Wadsworth from BC Transit, present at the meeting, if the city, by backtracking on the location, would lose the opportunity for the provincial government grant that would pay for the transit hub. Wadsworth said he did not know, but it was a risk because Nelson is in a queue with many other municipalities.
Councillor Jesse Woodward said he has so far not heard anyone advocate on behalf of transit riders, and the goal should be what is best for them.
Woodward listed seven city planning documents going back to 2011, all of which received public input and all of which document the public asking for more efficient and effective transit.
Woodward said the choice of the 300 block Victoria is based on extensive research by the city and by BC Transit including the pros and cons of various locations in the city combined with best practices in transit planning.
“This was not willy-nilly, this is a decade of planning,” he said, adding that transit is one solution to climate change.
“We need to get people into mass transit,” he said. “People won’t go easily towards mass transit if we don’t have an excellent transit system with an excellent exchange where they can move efficiently to school and to work.”
El Taco owner Justine Langevin, in an interview after the meeting, said Woodward’s comments were “disheartening and disappointing” and that she “felt like we are being asked to be the sacrificial lambs for the ‘greater good,’ as Jesse (Woodward) put it.”
Mayor John Dooley and Councillor Janice Morrison both said they had recently spent hours at the Victoria and Kootenay intersection observing business activity and traffic, and concluded that the city could mitigate parking and loading issues to allay some of the business concerns.
Morrison said she thinks there is an issue of systemic discrimination at play in the discussion.
“That is a major concern for me,” she said, “that somehow it’s not really the buses, but it’s the people that ride the buses. People who take transit are human beings.”
Clarke, in her email, referred to this comment as “bewildering” and Langevin called it “offensive,” stating that “none of us have ever said that or even thought that.” She added that their concern is about homeless people congregating on their block, not transit riders.
The location of the planned public washroom, which is considered by the city and BC Transit to be essential to an effective transit exchange and which has been raised by the businesses as a concern, was not discussed at the council meeting.
Dooley said his preference was to keep the 300 block location but work with the business owners to mitigate problems.
“Let’s get to the bottom, really to the bottom, of the concerns,” he said. “Let’s not just jump ship on the location, just because we had questions. Can we answer those questions? That’s where I’m coming from.”
The decision to keep the location but consult more about the design details passed a council vote with only Page voting against.