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Nanaimo to hold second approval process for public works yard

Council voted in favour of restarting the alternative approval process, after a previous alternative approval process this fall was deemed not valid

Nanaimo voters are getting a second chance to decide if they want to borrow $48.5 million for a redeveloped public works yard.

Council has voted in favour of restarting the alternative approval process in coming weeks, after a previous alternative approval process this fall was deemed not valid because of an administrative error discovered in mid-November in the city’s public notification process.

Nanaimo announced last month that the alternate approval process had been successful after only 3,035 people registered their opposition to the borrowing plan — less than half the number required for it to fail.

Normally, for an alternative approval process to fail, it would require at least 10 per cent of electors to submit forms opposing the plan. The number of eligible electors has been determined to be 78,892.

The vote to hold the process again was 7-2, with councillors Tyler Brown and Ben Geselbracht opposed.

Brown said there is no doubt the public works building is long overdue for redevelopment and improvement, but he questioned whether Nanaimo residents had the information they needed to make a decision.

“I do think there’s an opportunity for us to have a robust conversation, make sure it is well justified and then present it to the community,” he said.

Coun. Janice Perrino, who was in favour of holding the alternate approval process again, noted that the public works yard is close to 70 years old and was built when the city had fewer than 20,000 residents.

“We’re dealing with a large city now,” she said. “Any time there’s snow removal or water or whatever, it’s public works that gets called.

“They need to have a building where they can actually do the work that this city needs.”

Approval through an alternate approval proces will allow the city to take out a 20-year loan and pay it off slowly, she said, adding if the project had been built a decade ago, it would have been half the cost.

“So every time we wait, the price escalates and that’s what we are trying to stop.”

Nanaimo resident Sanford Bartlett said the alternate approval process is a difficult one for members of the public to understand and it is not inclusive.

“If you are trying to reach all the people in Nanaimo, you need to do something different than the last time,” he said, warning the city could otherwise end up undermining public confidence.

He recommended that notices be delivered to everybody in the community.

Bartlett also called on the city to look at other less-costly options for improving the public works facility.