Nelson city council threw its weight behind a plan to bring 17 units of low-cost housing to Baker Street, but the man behind the redevelopment of the former Savoy Hotel says the sale of the building could still be in jeopardy.
Council has directed city staff to start work on a bylaw that would change zoning on the building from commercial to a mix of church, residential and retail use. It did so against a recommendation from city staffers, who wanted to hold off until the project could be re-vetted by the city’s advisory planning commission, and until the city received more information supporting the Kootenay Christian Fellowship’s plans for the site.
But councillors Robin Cherbo and Donna Macdonald said they wanted to get the bylaw work underway, even if other information needs to be gathered the interim.
“This meets the criteria that we’re looking for, and gives the proponent an opportunity to secure funding and see if this project can go ahead,” Cherbo said.
While city staff have concerns over the size of the smallest units planned for the Savoy (164 and 168 square feet) and want the Fellowship to submit more information to prove they aren’t too tiny to be inhabitable, Macdonald said that isn’t a concern for her.
“We’ve been hearing testimonials from people who say I’d rather live in a smaller unit than in a car or under a bridge,” she told council. “There’s a clear need for this.”
While council’s decision keeps the rezoning process moving forward, Fellowship pastor Jim Reimer doesn’t think it’s moving fast enough to meet the May 30 deadline set out in the conditions of sale for the Savoy.
“There’s no possible way this is going to happen now, because they’re going to go to public hearing and go back to the planning commission,” he told local media following the meeting.
“Unless the city council can make a special resolution and get this done I just don’t see it’s possible, just because of the timeframe.”
While Reimer says he’s pleased to see council back the project, he doesn’t think city staff have given it the same support.
“This could’ve gone to the planning commission,” he said. “If they had chosen to do that, this could’ve been on the March agenda. They chose not to put it in there. So while I’m really happy [council] made this resolution, the sale is in jeopardy. If the seller chooses not to go forward, the sale is dead.”
Nelson planner Dave Wahn says the Fellowship originally submitted an application that would have allowed the building to be used as a church — but no information about the bachelor suites to be built on the Savoy’s upper floors. Though that application was looked over by the planning commission, the review body never got a chance to look at the suite design, which was only submitted last month.
He says Reimer is right to say the rezoning process could have moved faster, but it’s Kootenay Christian Fellowship which has held it up.
“If they had given us all the information at the beginning, yes, it could have,” he said. “But we are still missing information — and a lot of that information is similar examples of housing like this elsewhere. Nobody has given us any of that information. These are very small residential units, and there’s very little amenity space that’s going with them. As staff we’re not opposed to it. We just want to see evidence there are similar kinds of housing out there.”
With the rezone unable to begin this month, Reimer says the Fellowship’s goal of raising $1 million by April 15 to buy the building also becomes that much tougher.
“People are holding back because they don’t know whether it’s going to be passed or not,” he says.
“People, if they’re going to invest money, want a sure investment.”