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COLUMN: Making decisions for the future

Nelson councillor Donna Macdonald explains why she voted to approve the variances for the first phase of Nelson Landing
Artists rendering of first phase of new townhomes for Nelson Landing.

The first phase of Nelson Landing is set to land, following council’s approval. Our decision was met with relief and approval from some, and with dismay and disappointment from others. The Pollyanna in me would like everyone to come to a place of agreement every time; sadly that rarely happens.

At our meeting, I provided some background that informed my decision-making, and I’d like to share some of that now. Unfortunately I have a word limit for this column, which I don’t have at the council table!

When council approaches a decision, the first place to start is relevant city plans and policies. Over the past seven or eight years, we completed many plans — from the Path to 2040 Sustainability Plan, to active transportation, and energy and emission reduction plans. All of these are now incorporated into our Official Community Plan — our overall guiding document. And when I say “our,” I mean the community’s, because there was a lot of public involvement in the development of all those plans.

What does the Official Community Plan say about uses for this waterfront area? Compact, multi-unit and moderately high density residential (no condo skyscrapers), with limited neighbourhood commercial. And, importantly, public access to the waterfront must be maintained and enhanced. The waterfront is no longer a place for sawmills and single-use shopping malls, but it has a vibrant future as a place where people live and recreate.

The greatest challenge we (as a global society) face is climate change, and that reality demands that we live and act differently. As a city, we’ve done a lot to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and save energy costs in our operations.

When we look to the community to see what more can we do, we know that buildings and transportation are the biggest challenges. We can continue to run the successful EcoSave home retrofit program. We can improve the transit system. And we can ensure our community is designed for a low-carbon future, that it’s designed for people, not for cars. That includes higher density (in the right places) and walkability (for recreation, or just to buy some milk).

And here’s where another part of our decision-making enters the scene. That’s public input. I want to thank everyone we heard from, and especially those who read the materials, attended meetings, articulated concerns and proposed solutions.

The need for a sidewalk was one thing council clearly learned from nearby residents. The initial idea that the waterfront pathway would serve as a sidewalk might work in California but not here, not in the winter. There will now be a covenant attached to the property that the city will in time require sidewalks.

Why not right now? Because this first eightplex is an island in an otherwise bare landscape. To build a sidewalk now would simply be wasteful. Council is committed to a sidewalk, and the developer knows to include this in his design for the remainder of the property.

The public also convinced us to address the need for public parking. For now temporary parking will be provided, while the planning continues.

Many people are dubious about the narrow road. Will it, as we believe and as has been shown in other places, calm traffic, make it safer for shared uses (e.g., cars and bikes), and help to build a village feel? Or will it be disastrous?

As we design our low-carbon future, we need to stop designing for cars. If we build wide streets with lots of parking, cars will come. Yet, all of the city’s vision and plans point to a different direction, one with less dependence on cars and more encouragement for walking and biking.

Development proposals are about trade-offs. What is the community getting in exchange for the variances? We know the developer will build a beautiful (and expensive) multi-use pathway, and give it to the city. We know there’ll be a public road through the development; no chance of a gate going up one day.

And if the development proceeds, the developer has committed to dedicating (giving) 30 percent of the land to the city, including Red Sands beach and the adjacent forest.

For all those reasons, I supported the variances. Are there aspects I would change? Of course. But, overall there are significant public benefits and I believe this type of design sets us on the Path to 2040 that we as a community have wisely chosen.


Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor. She shares a column space in the Nelson Star with her colleagues around the table.