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Data centre approved amid shouting at Nanaimo council

Majority of Nanaimo council voted in favour of rezoning 2086 and 2090 East Wellington Rd. for light industrial use with a site-specific designation for high tech

Angry residents yelled at Nanaimo council members, calling out “shame” as a rezoning plan to permit a data centre passed third reading, prompting Mayor Leonard Krog to temporarily halt the meeting.

When the rezoning bylaws came up for discussion, those in the public gallery interjected when they disagreed with council members.

Concerns include noise from the facility and the amount of water needed for cooling equipment. Some believe the land would be better used for agriculture.

The majority of council members voted this week in favour of rezoning 2086 and 2090 East Wellington Rd. for light industrial use with a site-specific designation for high tech. It was previously zoned as “rural resource.” Coun. Ben Geselbracht was opposed to the change. The city requires a noise abatement plan.

Data centres store computer servers and related equipment.

Geselbracht said there has been a lot of concern in the community about the proposal.

Demand has been growing around the world for data centres, he said, adding the biggest issue is how they are cooled. Water-cooled systems are quieter.

“I don’t think there has been enough information presented on the water usage” for the Nanaimo proposal, he said.

He wanted to know what the impact would be on Nanaimo’s water, especially given the droughts the community has been experiencing.

Other communities in Canada and the United States have had issues around the noise of cooling systems at data centres, Geselbracht said.

Coun. Don Bonner said the area has been planned as an industrial area, as set out in the official community plan.

Coun. Erin Hemmens said she lives close to the mill on Haliburton Street and understands issues around sound. “I heard from the proponent that they are going to work at every stage to make sure that the decibel readings are below what is required and I found that appealing.”

“Do I want a data centre? Probably not. Does this align with our plans and is that our job to approve developments that align with our plans? Absolutely. So I’m in favour.”

Mayor Leonard Krog agreed that the data centre was an appropriate use for the property and noted that plans for industrial use were long-standing. People in the gallery started shouting when he began talking about communities changing over time.

“I’m sorry. If you want to sit on this side of the chamber you are welcome to do so. We had an election,” he said.

“We are not going back to the pre-2018 regime. People who invest are entitled to have reasonable expectations met around appropriate land use. This happens to fall within that.”

Before 2018, Nanaimo city hall experienced a rocky time as some council members and some senior staff battled amongst themselves.

After the vote was held and yelling continued, Krog said. “Perhaps we can take a minute to those who wish to speak to go outside the chamber where they can discuss this amongst themselves.”

Townsite Planning applied for the rezoning on behalf of 2779022 Ontario Inc. Two lots would be consolidated totalling 2.32 hectares. Now that the project has gone through third reading, it will next go to council for fourth and final reading.

After that, city hall would look at a development permit application and a building permit application when they come in.

Nanaimo’s Official Community Plan designates this area for future light industrial use.

Each of the two lots, on the north side of East Wellington, have a single-family house. There are a couple of wetlands and the neighbourhood is mainly large rural-residential uses, a staff report said.

A conceptual plan has been submitted to city hall and the applicant has said the data centre would be built in phases as demand grows, the report said.

The new zone allows a maximum height of 14 metres (46 feet) for the building and the applicant said the building would be within that limit. The developer plans to retain a minimum of 20 per cent of the trees on the site.

The conceptual plan avoids encroaching on setbacks to protect wetlands, the report said.

Under the city’s community amenity policy, the proponent would provide close to $629,000 by the time the project is completed.

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