Written by Derek Koel
Port McNeill council has been holding less of its informal Committee of the Whole meetings lately, but the longer than normal meeting/workshop on Sept. 13 made up for lost time.
A full continent of council was present, albeit only all together for a short time, as Coun. Leighann Ruel was absent for the first half of the meeting and Coun. Ann-Marie Baron left the meeting early.
The Rural Economic Development Infrastructure Project (REDIP) was on the agenda. Port McNeill scored $494,500 of grant money to come up with a downtown waterfront and community revitalization plan, to assist with McNeill’s “forest impact transition,” according to the B.C. government website.
Enter Port McNeill’s engineering firm, McElhanney. Their “multi-disciplinary team” was contracted to meet and workshop with council and senior town staff to create a, “high level draft.”
The small army of consultants on hand, representing engineering fields like transportation, civil, and landscape, with planning, marketing and design professionals thrown in the mix. They checked out the town in the morning on their own, to assess the waterfront and downtown, the walkability, opportunities, and constraints.
“High level draft” aside, the nuts and bolts of the day came down to the town’s waterfront and where to put things and what they will look like; new washrooms, showers, a children’s playground, outdoor workout circuit and an open air gazebo.
Right away it was clear the washroom location was going to be a sticking point, with Baron questioning the town’s sewer capacity in the area, stating the Harbour and Visitor Information Center “has sewer issues to start with.”
“Has McElhanney actually looked at the sewer lines in the area?” wondered Coun. Shelley Downey.
They had not. Council was instructed to pick their ideal spot for the facility and the engineers will do a “feasibility study” figuring out the water and sewer later.Council was also “sensitive” to preserving the waterfront views that the neighboring pub and restaurant enjoy, not wanting the new washrooms, showers, or gazebo to be in the way.
Agreement on final locations for the various new facilities was not reached, however it was decided the old showers and washrooms by the ferry terminal will be torn down as BC Ferries and Small Craft Harbors “won’t play ball with us on a shared use facility,” stated Mayor James Furney.
Also noted was that adding new showers and washrooms to the visitor centre would trigger “building code compliance” on the existing building, so that option was deemed to be too expensive. It seems a stand-alone pre-fabricated washroom and shower at the waterfront will be the end-all. On the topic of gazebo, council kicked around the idea of a second floor, but street level gazebo, with an underground parking lot below. They seemed to come down to earth when the expense and complex nature of such a project was discussed, however at the end of the day this option is still on the table.
Baron referenced one of her pet projects at the harbour and wondered if it could be incorporated into the plans; her previously approved $70,000 Harbour Parking lot upgrade project. That project is to include a covered “residents only” parking area. Baron noted progress on this project has stalled, partially due to the $20,000 in engineering costs, but council left those plans as is.
There are no plans to get rid of the paid angle parking on Beach Drive or change the street’s one-way status. The thought is that parking in the area is generally fine, most of the time.
The sidewalk along the waterfront will see an upgrade, bumping it out to make it three meters wide for better “beach connectivity.”
When it came to talk of a future playground at the waterfront, the consensus was that they did not want a traditional playground, rather something more “passive” with natural “wood elements” that might also incorporate seating, sculptures and “serene elements.”
Ruel pushed back, wanting the traditional school yard metal and plastic children’s playground, citing the extra maintenance involved with wood structures, and that public works “didn’t have the time,” to maintain the wood.
Furney stated he thought council and the consultants should “approach our gem of a waterfront with great trepidation,” and what he wanted out of the day’s planning session was an “obtainable goal - just washrooms and showers.”
Big picture planning ideas floated around, including moving the town office into the Old School as a way to revitalize that zone, however council was concerned about the condition of the two bridges in the area and the replacement costs involved.
It seems the trees on the nature trail and the newly donated public use land on Cedar Street could be on the chopping block, that is, if Baron has her way. She talked of “logging most of the trees, and opening it up” so you “can see the ocean as you drive down the hill.”
The parks and recreation department will be encouraged to relocate their planned outdoor workout circuit, so it is not along the waterfront. The consultant’s told cautionary tales of underused, poorly planned and designed workout circuits in other communities. They said they should be located in residential areas, as they are typically used by residents and are not suitable for tourist areas.
Council noted some “historically significant” trees and memorial plaques, benches and picnic tables along the water front, they were hesitant to disturb them, but conceded it could be in the cards under the right circumstances. The town has currently put a hold on their memorial bench and table program while it is being reviewed.
The burl will stay put and the steam donkey was not discussed.
The draft plan will go to council’s various advisory groups and committees for their input, then the full plan will be revealed at a public open house, planned for later in the fall.