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First Nation a partner in Nanaimo rental project that could include school, health services

The project, dubbed Te’tuxwtun — after the traditional name for Mount Benson — would see 390 rental units and potentially an alternative school

A Nanaimo First Nation is partnering with the city, school district and B.C. Housing on a major development in the city’s Harewood neighbourhood that could include everything from affordable housing to a new alternative school.

The project, dubbed Te’tuxwtun — after the traditional name for Mount Benson — is slated for a 5.8-acre property that includes 564 Fifth St. and 502 and 504 Howard Ave.

It would see 390 rental units constructed in six low-to-mid-rise buildings, with a maximum height of 20 metres.

Half of the new homes would be two-to-four-bedroom units suitable for family housing, with some rented at market rates and others designed as affordable housing.

Some units would be designated for tenants displaced from existing rental units on one of the lots included in the development.

The 505 Howard Ave. property was the site of the old Harewood School, which closed in 2004 and was later demolished, while 502 Howard Ave. has a sports field and public open space. The property at 564 Fifth St. was home to a multi-family rental project that has been demolished except for one building.

The Te’tuxwtun proposal, which could also include a daycare and health services along with commercial space, is now awaiting Treasury Board approval for funding to B.C. Housing. The overall proposal cost is not yet available.

Nanaimo council this week approved first and second reading for a rezoning to create a comprehensive development district zone and also approved changes to its official community plan. A public hearing is required prior to future votes on third and final reading.

“This is a really exciting, significant project,” said Jeremy Holm, Nanaimo’s director of development approvals.

A central, public open space would run through the complex and there are plans for a community gathering space as part of the development’s public amenity contributions. The project would include about 400 stalls of underground parking.

A society or partner, probably the Snuneymuxw Nation, will work with B.C. Housing to implement the project, said Thomas Bevan of B.C. Housing.

The Snuneymuxw First Nation, B.C. Housing, Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District and the City of Nanaimo have been working on the ambitious endeavour since signing a memorandum of understanding in 2019.

The idea is to create a supportive community based on a philosophy that brings together Western and Indigenous knowledge and culture with a focus on caring for one another and being inspired by the land.

“This amazing project has been profound. … It has brought all of us to the table in a meaningful way,” said Joan Brown, speaking for Snuneymuxw Nation.

The intention is to bring the community together and make it strong, she said — by combining housing with on-site services and amenities.

Council also supported using the alternative approval process to remove the park dedication at 502 Howard Ave., known as the Harewood sports field.

If the move is approved, the property would become part of the comprehensive development district zone being considered by council. Plans include public pathways, trees, plazas and gathering space.

Under the alternative process, the municipality can approve the dedication removal if fewer than 10 per cent of electors submit response forms opposing the move — 7,833 electors would have to be opposed to stop the move.

Coun. Paul Manly said he would like to see a covenant on the project to ensure it remains in public hands in perpetuity, noting some government-funded affordable housing projects built from the 1960s to the 1980s ended up being sold and became market housing.

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