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Plans for up to 2,200 homes plus business sites at Nanaimo's largest block of undeveloped land

Proposal goes to step, a public hearing

Plans for the largest undeveloped parcel of land in Nanaimo are heading to a public hearing in January.

Seacliff Properties, a Vancouver development company, wants to build a mixed-use, master-planned community with up to 2,200 homes at the city’s south end. The 726-acre property — almost five times the size of Beban Park — would also host industrial operations, both light and heavy.

A date for the hearing has not yet been announced.

Single-family and multi-family homes and commercial space are planned, and the developer says it will dedicate nearly 300 acres for parks, open spaces, plazas and trails, and also protect land along the Nanaimo River.

Land would be set aside for a community centre and a new elementary school in the development, which is called Sandstone.

The property, which is undeveloped, includes areas that were logged in the past, bare rock and natural features such as wetlands and watercourses.

The existing master plan for the Sandstone lands was approved in 2009. However that development did not go ahead and Seacliff bought the property in 2018 with its master plan still in place.

Seacliff has brought a revised proposal to city hall and is promising to spend tens of millions of dollars to help upgrade transportation infrastructure in the south area, where congestion and access are long-time concerns, and to dedicate land to the Snuneymuxw First Nation. The updated master plan is supported by Nanaimo staff.

The developer is seeking an amendment to the city’s official community plan, with specific zoning changes for the property to come before council at a later date.

Billions of dollars would be invested in Sandstone during its 20-year build-out, a company official said last year.

Georgia Dejardins, senior asset manager at Seacliff, told council this month the new site plan focuses on economic development, with industrial and commercial uses creating jobs.

A consultant’s study last year showed that Nanaimo has a shortage of industrial land. Council heard that the Seacliff property is suited to both small and large industrial operations, especially given its proximity to the Duke Point industrial site, highways and airport.

The employment and business precinct, at 222 acres, is located between Cedar Road and Highway 1 and next to the Duke Point highway and would allow for industrial uses.

Seacliff has other projects underway on Vancouver Island, including the mixed-use Royal Beach in Colwood, and the Fairwinds Golf and residential community at Nanoose Bay.

The timeline and details of how the project would be rolled out have not been refined yet, Dejardins said, adding there is significant interest in moving forward with industrial development.

There would be a total of 3.3 million square feet of industrial space, up by 2.4 million square feet from the previous plan, a city staff report said. That expansion is aimed at meeting current demand and accommodating future economic growth.

Commercial space would be reduced by 702,883 square feet under the new plan.

Having locally oriented shops is expected to decrease the amount of traffic that would have been generated by a regional centre.

Seacliff’s plan meets official community plan goals such as providing job opportunities, protecting sensitive areas, providing parks and open spaces, and allowing for a mix of housing, said the report.

Overall, 200 fewer residential units would be allowed under the new proposal.

The 175-acre area between the Nanaimo River Estuary and Cedar Road would see up to 600 residential units along with natural areas.

Up to 1,000 residential units, some in developments of up to six storeys, as well as commercial construction are planned for a 52-acre precinct called Fielding between Cedar Road and Highway 1. This area would see multi-family development and mixed-use commercial uses oriented to local residents.

In the 183-acre Cinnebar Valley area, a total of 600 residential units are envisioned.

Both the Cedar Road and Cinnebar areas would see single-family homes and ground-oriented multi-family developments, which would fit in with existing neighbourhoods in Chase River, a staff report said.

Mike Parker, chair of the Chase River Community Association, is in favour of the proposal going to public hearing.

But he said residents want some aspects of this proposal scrapped in favour of the existing master plan. That plan would have paved the way for the area to become the “southern gateway” to Nanaimo, and he said residents still want that regional commercial centre.

Transportation is a pressing issue in the south end of the city. Parker said the association would like to see a variety of traffic options for residents to review. One issue is a shortage of routes for motorists to exit the area.

A disadvantage of the new proposal is that it would eliminate a Highway 1 overpass between the Sandstone commercial centre and the Cinnebar Valley that had been part of the master plan and would have helped improve the southern area’s transportation network, city staff said.

The developer says the overpass is too expensive to build and scaling down the previously planned regional commercial hub would reduce the number of vehicles coming to the area.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said it was important to hear that the neighbourhood and Snuneymuxw First Nation support moving to a public hearing.

“We actually gain much more in this plan than we did in the original ,” she said, adding the proposal includes a five-acre school site.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he likes the new plan’s balance of commercial, industrial and residential uses, as well as consultation with the Snuneymuwx First Nation and neighbourhoods.

Mayor Leonard Krog noted that Seacliff is a major developer and would be able to move ahead on a project of this size.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com