Re-zoning approved for Terminal Avenue supportive housing project in Nanaimo

Area residents opposed rezoning bylaw wording allowing for drop-in resource centre on site

Permanent supportive housing at 250 Terminal Ave. has been in the plans for years, and those plans are now advancing.

A re-zoning application came before council Monday, June 17, to allow development of permanent supportive housing and affordable housing at the property, currently the site of Newcastle Place modular temporary supportive housing operated by Island Crisis Care Society Since 2018.

The property, consisting of five parcels of land bordered by Terminal Avenue, Bryden and Mt. Benson streets, was identified as a location for permanent supportive and affordable housing in a July 2020 memorandum of understanding between the city and B.C. Housing. The re-zoning allows for the transition from temporary housing status to permanent housing on the property. 

B.C. Housing has planned a two-phase development. The first phase will construct a five-storey permanent supportive housing facility with 50 sleeping units and support services. The second phase would see construction of affordable housing on the north portion of the site.

“The concept here – again this is concept – includes a five-storey, stepped fifth storey, supportive housing development on the south portion of the site … as well as a 34 units of affordable housing future phase on the north portion of the site,” said Jeremy Holm, city director of planning and development. 

Area residents said they were opposed to five-storey buildings in the area. They also asked for a taller fence than that proposed between the property and adjoining residences facing Vancouver Avenue, but they were most concerned with certain wording in the city’s re-zoning bylaw.

Nancy Mitchell of the Newcastle Community Association said her group interpreted the re-zoning bylaw to mean that ground floors of the proposed buildings would be available for walk-in services, such as food and clothing distribution and drop-in centre or activity space, whereas B.C. Housing repeatedly assured that access to the lower floors would be for residents only, with no walk-in facilities for non-residents. 

“We thought that we were just over the hump with the potential of a new building and sense of order to the neighbourhood; now we could get really down to re-invigorating our community and re-establishing the businesses that have been lost as a result of almost six years of temporary housing, but we were in for a surprise still because we’ve now learned that a social service resource centre has been proposed in the new … zone as a permitted use,” Mitchell said.

The association asked that the bylaw wording be amended to remove a resource centre as a permitted use. It also requested the buildings be lowered from 17 metres to 14 metres or four storeys to meet recommended maximum building heights for that area in Nanaimo’s city plan. Reducing building height could also reduce the number of supportive housing units to 30, Mitchell said.

“Established evidence from those experiencing homelessness and suffering from mental health and addiction issues recommends that distributing housing in small numbers across the community is more amenable to their recovery than warehousing 50 persons in a vulnerable environment,” Mitchell said. “I think you just have to look up the street to [a smaller social housing complex] and you wouldn’t even know it was there.”

Mitchell reminded council the decisions they make about Newcastle Place will affect the neighbourhood for decades to come. 

“You can go home, but we have to live with it,” she said. 

Jose Wong, B.C. Housing development manager, said the agency agreed that there would be no walk-in services on the ground floors of the project. 

“We have made a commitment and all the designs are centred about support and offices for the residents and not for external clients and we don’t have any issue with making an amendment to the bylaw just to confirm that,” Wong said.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong asked if there was potential to limit the number of supportive housing residents to 30 instead of 50 and using the 20 remaining spaces for affordable housing. 

“The number of units were determined because of economics of scale, both for construction and also for operations, and if we go lower than that number of units we would need to find another site, which is already very difficult in the City of Nanaimo. That was the rational for the 50 units,” Wong said. 

Coun. Hilary Eastmure asked about the possibility of limiting the building height from 17 metres to 14 metres, as the Newcastle association was requesting, and Wong replied that lowering the building height by three metres would eliminate one storey and limit the number of units.

Council voted to amend the re-zoning bylaw to remove the social services resource centre clause from the bylaw, increase the fence height and approved the re-zoning for the project.

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