Tuesday, January 15, 2013

City of Nanaimo and School District
Land Swap Agreement Creates Large, Strategic Development Site in
Quennell Square Precinct

Another large and strategic development site has emerged in inner city Nanaimo. It's within the Quennell Square precinct, another site that has been developed piecemeal without a Master Plan. Over the almost 10 years I've lived in the area I and others, including the Downtown BIA, have lobbied for a comprehensive plan for this remarkable site. Senior City Management have said that further work on the site would be "premature" and require added staff. See item 3: City Manager's Report.

The precinct includes the 1951 City Hall, a Provincial Court Annex and Access Centre, the Franklyn Street Gym and a private trade school operating in a surplus School Board building. And most recently two large projects have been rushed to completion: 36 units of low-barrier assisted living housing and the City Hall annex building (more info on this to come). 

Here's the Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines document on the precinct.

Through recent land swap agreements with the School District ownership of the yellow parcels in the illustration is ceded to the School District. The mauve parcels are BCTFA owned. Background info from City of Nanaimo documents: City and School District Collaboration Agreement, Property Exchange Agreement. And previous SidewalkBallet post on Quennell Square.

From my Email to Mayor and Council May 12, 2011: The lesson has also been learned in other cities that you have stop making the planning mistakes that lead to the problems in the first place. Which brings me to your decision to proceed with the City Hall Annex without public discussion or neighbourhood consultation, and most importantly in my view, without a comprehensive plan for the Quennell Square precinct. Both of these projects bringing millions of dollars of development and opportunity to this site, but are placed helter-skelter and amount to another opportunity lost to integrate public capital projects into their surroundings to the benefit of all involved. This particular site offers opportunities that would be the envy of every small city in the country. There are strong ownership positions here by both the City and the Province. The School District has maintained a presence here and a private trade school is currently using the facility. The precinct includes the Law Courts Annex and the City-owned Franklyn Street gym. Imagine the redevelopment of Quennell Square as the subject of a country-wide Design Competition, as other cities have done. Imagine incorporating into this precinct a strong element of education and training, designing and incorporating the supporting infrastructure and encouraging the location of private and public education facilities into this block. Critcal mass where we now have this growing economic sector, for one example, spread thinly throughout the city. Where we had dislocation we start to see integration and cross-fertilization. The site would probably include some public space perhaps the entire site designed around a central zocolo creating a very desirable, diverse, residential neighbourhood as well.

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