This conceptual drawing shows potential design plans for new development in Tyee Plaza

Council split on redevelopment of Tyee Plaza

City council is divided on eliminating parking stalls in Tyee Plaza to make way for new development

City council is divided on eliminating parking stalls in Tyee Plaza to make way for new development.

Two councillors urged council to hold off on supporting the removal of a portion of the plaza parking lot from a Crown Grant parking requirement while another accused the city of putting up barriers to development.

The owner has submitted an application to the B.C. ministry of forests, lands and natural resources to have parking stalls immediately surrounding Spirit Square and in front of the Art Gallery and Visitor Information Centre removed from a 1969 grant agreement with the province that the land be used for free public parking. The owner intends to develop a mixed-use residential building adjacent to Spirit Square much to the dismay of Coun. Charlie Cornfield who said he has a number of concerns with the proposal, most notably that the public has not been consulted.

“I have a great deal of problems when such a major change is occurring to the downtown and it hasn’t been part of that public engagement process,” Cornfield said. “I think it’s premature to adjust the parking. As a councillor, I’m elected to serve the public interest and I believe there’s a need for a decent-sized open space downtown that can be used for many different activities.

“The building being proposed is right adjacent to Spirit Square. Are we then going to have the people living there complaining about the music from the Thursday night concerts?” Cornfield said. “Once the restriction is removed from the title, we lose that open space. So I would urge council to move very carefully and consider all the implications of making a decision that I consider premature. I would also urge the public to make their comments because to date, we’ve avoided public engagement on this proposal.”

While the owner at this stage is only applying to free up land for a second residential building in Tyee Plaza (the first will be built on the former SuperValu site), conceptual plans show a new complex that could house a new library, a new Information Centre and Art Gallery as well as a retail/restaurant space with a patio. The building is proposed to be built in between Spirit Square and the existing parking stalls in the plaza which are to be reconfigured from angled to perpendicular parking to increase the amount of parking stalls from 523 to 535.

Coun. Larry Samson questioned who would pay for the re-location of the Art Gallery and Visitor Centre and said he’s concerned the plan will forever change the area around Spirit Square.

“We’re doing all these engagements and open houses and yet we’re going to sit here and make a significant decision without listening to the public, so I think it’s wrong,” Samson said. “Once we take this out of the parking zone you’ll no longer walk up  to Spirit Square – there will be a four-storey building in front of it; you’ll have to come in through different routes. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m saying let’s give it some thought. Let’s look at all the repercussions and what we want to see in our downtown. That’s why we’re going through all the exercises and open houses on our downtown, and by doing this, we’re cutting it short.”

Other councillors, including councillors Colleen Evans and Marlene Wright, pointed out that at the Refresh Downtown public sessions, revitalizing Tyee Plaza kept coming up as one of people’s top priorities.

Evans also reminded council that all they were being asked to do was provide comment to the province on removing land from the parking requirement.

“I’m urging councillors to look at this one step at a time,” Evans said. “Why would we create a barrier when this is before us as a positive proposal?”

Coun. Ron Kerr agreed and said he would like to see changes made to an area that looks the same way it did when he first drove into Tyee Plaza decades ago.

“I’ve got to admit, it wasn’t a positive experience. I kind of looked around and thought, ‘this is Campbell River.’ You know honestly that parking lot hasn’t changed a lot in all these years. To me, this project and the projects anticipated for this area are a real step forward. Change is good,” Kerr said before taking council to task for making things hard on developers. “This is one thing we do really well in this community – is throw up roadblocks, take sides, polarize issues and not go anywhere and that’s why we’ve got that same parking lot that was here 43 years ago. I think there’s great opportunity for conversation, for discussion as we get moving ahead but let’s get moving ahead.”

Councillors Wright and Michele Babchuk stressed that council needs to be fair to the developer if it wants investment put into the city.

“Although I do understand the public purse…if we’re looking for developers to do their part and put money in, then we have to be fair as well,” Babchuk said.

Mayor Andy Adams reminded council that specific development plans, such as landscaping, form and character, will all still go through council as the owner will have to apply for and obtain a major development permit prior to construction of any new buildings in the plaza.

“I want to stay focused on what the request is,” Adams said. “This is a request only on the question of the parking within the area. So with that, it’s more why would we not want to entertain the flexibility to continue discussions with the public and with this developer, or any other developer, for potential redesign and redevelopment to revitalize our downtown.”

In the end, council voted to support the Tyee Plaza owner’s application to remove the portion in question from the Crown parking requirement, with councillors Cornfield and Samson opposed.