City of Powell River councillors were provided an overview of the downtown plan being conducted to develop a vision and neighbourhood concept for the area.
At the November 15 committee of the whole meeting, city manager of planning services Daniella Fergusson said one of the major projects she is working on is the downtown plan. She said she was providing councillors an update on the work done so far, as well as letting the public know there is an open house on November 21 from 4 to 6 pm in council chambers, where project consultants will share survey results and specific directions to be explored by the process.
Fergusson said there are a couple of reasons for the downtown plan. One is that the Marine Avenue and Willingdon Avenue corridors are among the biggest tax generators in the community. Along Marine, she said there are a number of properties that are small but mighty for the tax base.
“This is a really important area of our community that is creating jobs, contributing to the livelihood and attractiveness of our community, and it’s an important place to continue to support further so it continues to be successful,” added Fergusson. “The province offered the city some funding in response to the curtailment of the mill. They asked us what we could do with the money and we came up with a variety of ideas. One of them was the downtown plan, so the province is funding this community engagement and design process as a result.”
Fergusson said the plan does not include residential properties on Willingdon, and the hope is that it is indicated to residents that the city is not planning to change their land uses.
She said there are two strategic city land holdings in the study area. One is the old arena site and the other is the Westview wastewater treatment plant.
“This downtown plan process is an opportunity to re-engage with the community and see what is appropriate to be there now because the circumstances are different than they were in 2014 [when the official community plan was developed].” said Fergusson. “The wastewater treatment plant is a city property that will close down in terms of its current use, as a result of the new wastewater treatment plant under construction in Townsite. There is an opportunity to consider something different for this property.”
Fergusson said the study area encompasses Marine Avenue, which is an important business and employment area, plus a tourist destination place.
“It’s a gateway to our community,” said Fergusson. “We have the Willingdon Avenue experience, which feels like a back alley to many, so there’s room for improvement there for connecting people and also improving the appearance of our community.”
Plans date back to 1992
Fergusson said there have been four downtown plans in recent memory, starting in 1992. She said consultants working on the current project are going back to those plans to see what was recommended, and considering current circumstances, what remains relevant and actionable.
“Our official community plan is something we are looking at in the downtown plan; it was done in 2014,” said Fergusson. “Staff understand there is an expectation that we’ll be reviewing the official community plan in short order. We’re planning that for next year.
“A great opportunity for this downtown plan is to have community conversations about what is the future of our downtown to inform the development of the next official community plan.”
The guiding principles, according to Fergusson, are that downtown is an attractive, vibrant, environmentally and economically sustainable neighbourhood that brings together Powell River’s unique culture and identity.
Fergusson said the project is scheduled to wrap up in the first quarter of 2023 and the consultant will be presenting findings to councillors.
Councillor George Doubt said this is one of the most exciting opportunities to re-envision downtown Powell River.
“It’s a great opportunity to create a combination of commercial, tourism accommodation and living accommodation for residents,” added Doubt.
Councillor Jim Palm asked if the downtown plan was 100 per cent grant funded. Fergusson said it is totally funded by the province.
Councillor and committee chair Earl Almeida asked how many respondents there were at Blackberry Festival, where the city planning department had a booth, and to the online survey.
Fergusson said there were 150 people at Blackberry Festival who left feedback and she believes 400 people have responded to the online survey.