B.C. Investment Management Corporation says it wants a public hearing by November or it may "reconsider the viability" of its $2.3-billion Fairwinds development in Nanoose Bay.
The company's notice has sparked a flurry of activity at the Regional District of Nanaimo, where the board voted Tuesday to process the project "in a timely manner."
However, the latest schedule from the RDN shows a public information meeting in September-October and first and second readings coming to the regional board in November-December.
An earlier schedule, assuming the board approves the readings, suggests a public hearing in January-February and final approval later in 2014.
In January 2012, following a four-year public process, the neighbourhood plans for Fairwinds were incorporated into the Nanoose Bay Official Community Plan. The formal application for rezoning was submitted July 26, 2012. To have so little progress since, says Russell Tibbles, vicepresident of development and operations for Bentall Kennedy (Canada) LP, a commercial real estate firm hired by bcIMC to handle Fairwinds, has been "very disappointing."
bcIMC, an arm's-length provincial company with an investment portfolio of $92 billion, mainly from public-sector pension funds, told the Fairwinds Community Association that a delay to 2014, "will have negative impacts on the development returns and may cause us to reconsider the viability of Fairwinds."
Jack Kehoe, a developer and FCA director, said last week that bcIMC would be in a position to throw out its Fairwinds neighbourhood plans, five years in the making, and "sell off the whole thing in chunks," much to the chagrin of the 600 or so home owners who have already bought in Fairwinds.
Fairwinds is a mainly residential development proposed for 748 acres (303 hectares) in Nanoose Bay divided into two "neighbourhoods": the Lakes District and Schooner Cove, with a projected population of 5,263 by completion in 2029.
The Lakes District proposes a mix of 1,675 upscale single-family and multi-family homes. Schooner Cove would have up to 360 condominiums with
25,000 square feet (2,325 square metres) of commercial space of the marina, bakery, pub variety. Don and Donna White, who recently moved into their million-dollar Fairwinds home, warned in a July 1 letter to Geoff Garbutt, the RDN's General Manager of Strategic and Community Development, that "rumours are flying about the death of Fairwinds, and this will spread to the larger community."
The pace has been "ridiculously slow," they said. "We are extremely dismayed and upset by all this, and feel that we bought and built under false pretences."
Property owner Karen Wright said things were going well and then "the development process disappeared into a black hole."
She hasn't been able to sell two of her properties, one of which has been on the market for five years, she said. "With the unending delay in regulatory approvals, this once-vibrant community, full of promise, has stagnated, leaving so many of us confused, frustrated, disappointed and losing our financial security."
bcIMC's "patience has been remarkable," she said. "And I understand that it's running out. I can't say that I blame them."
Home owner Ron Hanson said he was "disappointed" to hear at a June 26 Fairwinds open house that "the RDN cannot or will not meet the timeline requested by bcIMC," a timeline he called "totally reasonable."
The RDN board and staff "have failed us miserably," he said. "I do hope that if bcIMC pulls out of this worthy project that you already have another investor who is willing to spend this kind of money in your district. Somehow I don't think that is in the cards."
FCA vice-president Dave Patterson appeared before the RDN's Electoral Area Planning Committee July 9, presenting a petition signed by 317 people calling for a public hearing by November.
"The failure of this project," he told the committee, "... would be tragic."
George Holme, the RDN Area Director for Nanoose Bay, said the RDN now has "two of our senior staff trying to get there as quickly as possible."
However, much of the delay has resulted from the project's requiring approval from provincial agencies, in particular the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, he said. "The regional district's been wearing the can on this."
In late June, RDN Chair Joe Stanhope wrote to MoTI Minister Todd Stone asking him to put in writing an agreement making MoTI responsible for Fairwinds' roads, sidewalks, trails and boulevards.
Garbutt, who is credited by Patterson and Tibbles for getting things moving since he joined the RDN in early May, said last week it may seem trivial to hold up a $2.3-billion project for an agreement on sidewalks but in fact an integrated system of roads, sidewalks, boulevards, trails and storm drainage is "very, very important to make the whole vision for the Lakes District and Schooner Cove."
The streets will be "very different" from the norm, he said, geared to "active transportation" that includes "low-speed electric vehicles and all that."
"It's important that we get this thing correct," Garbutt said.
Part of the delay, he said, is that the project requires the signing of a number of phased development agreements (PDAs) which commit the parties to responsibilities and actions over 20 years. These agreements will come to the regional board along with the applications for zoning amendments.
Garbutt agreed that the process has "accelerated since May" but said that's mainly due to "the applicant" and to the community volunteers who have worked on the neighbourhood planning process.
Tibbles said bcIMC has been "very patient" and there's been "way more progress since May."
He wouldn't speculate, however, on what bcIMC will do if the public hearing is set for after November.
Holmes said bcIMC and Bentall Kennedy "have done a hell of a job" and he remains optimistic.
"I am behind this development," he said.
"My feeling is this is going to get done."
Brian Wilford, Oceanside Star / Jack Kehoe (left) and Dave Patterson, of the Fairwinds Community Association, are pushing the Regional District of Nanaimo to get moving on the Fairwinds development application.;
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