Mayor Ron Woznow wants to initiate a plan to look into City of Powell River’s downtown core, including uses for the former Willingdon Arena site and the Westview wastewater treatment plant.
At the November 15 committee of the whole meeting, Woznow had listed under new business an item called Alberni and Marine opportunities.
“I would recommend that staff prepare a report, with the terms of reference for a select committee, which would assist economic development and expedite the development of the old arena site and the Westview wastewater treatment site,” said Woznow. “This is a key to addressing the loss of revenue with the mill shutdown, and the shortage of housing.
“Five years ago, there was a plan that assumed new housing by 2022 would be more than 750 units. In fact, the actual number is about half of that. No wonder we have a housing crisis.”
Woznow said a consultant has again been hired and $80,000 has been allocated to studying the arena and waste treatment site. He said the key to maximizing the value of the consultant’s work is to ensure there will be facilitation of development.
“To give you an idea, for the last 33 years, the arena site has been studied,” said Woznow. “There have been multiple plans, none of which have ever been implemented. The thinking about having a select committee is that they would consist of individuals with proven implementation track records that could help ensure some of these plans will get translated into real-live projects.
“In the past 12 years, there have been private proposals to develop projects that were purported to create hundreds of good-paying jobs in Powell River. None of those have come to fruition because of the lack of implementation experience.”
Woznow said development of the city’s strategic land holdings rests with city council and city staff. He said with a focus on implementation, and working with developers with proven track records, these opportunities can be captured for the benefit of all residents.
Councillor Trina Isakson said this was the first time council was hearing this.
“Just so members of the public know, I know as much as you do,” said Isakson. “I saw this item on the agenda and I’m hearing this for the first time. I don’t feel I can make a decision based on the information I have.
“We have a process with the planning department that is highly regarded and is doing good work. To go directly to a certain type of development presumes the best-use case and I don’t think we’re there yet. The public needs to have input beyond being members of a select committee.”
Isakson said she believes it is too early and a process is in place where this site is prioritized and will be going through a best-use process.
Councillor Rob Southcott said it is a fascinating proposal and he’d be interested to see how this would link to the downtown plan that is underway. He said he would also be interested in reviewing the regional housing plan.
“It seems to me that staff is working with what you [the mayor] is proposing with a downtown plan,” said Southcott. “I’d be interested to hear what staff would have to say about the proposal.”
Councillor George Doubt said it is an interesting idea. From his first day in the community, he’s been hearing opinions about what should and shouldn’t be done with the prime piece of property where the arena once stood, he added.
“It’s certainly been a controversy,” added Doubt. “We’ve talked about consulting with the public about a downtown plan and that’s a central piece of property to that. I hesitate to have two things going on at the same time about the same piece of property, but we are in the middle of the downtown plan creation right now. It looks like it is going to be finished by the spring of 2022.
“It would make sense for me for staff to come back with a report about the concept of a committee to look into the use of a plan once we’ve taken into account what the public has to say about the entire downtown plan.”
Councillor Jim Palm said he appreciated the initiative and thinks it is a bold statement by the new mayor to move the community forward.
“These committees do a lot of good work, but they take a long time to formulate and get up and running,” said Palm. “The sooner we get ahead of this process, the better off we are going to be.”
Woznow said the concept of having a select committee would be having a group of individuals who can provide advice to consultants hired to conduct a downtown study. He said a lot of time can be spent reading the reports of consultants generated over the past 33 years.
“One of the reasons why nothing ever happens is the consultants were not focused on implementation,” added Woznow. “The select committee can work part and parcel as unpaid volunteers, providing strategic advice based on their years of experience in actually implementing projects.
“Powell River has some very smart individuals who have made good things happen. Let us use those volunteers, so when the study is finished, if council decides to proceed, all of the nitty-gritty stuff is there. We might be able to take one or two years off an actual implementation.”
Council carried a motion from Woznow for staff to prepare a report with draft terms of reference for a select committee looking at development of the old arena site and Westview wastewater treatment plant.