Building boom grips city and drives industry to new levels

The city sits amidst unprecedented times when it comes to development.

Almost $43 million in estimated value permits have been issued to-date — nearly twice 2021’s mark — on 17 permits. The pace last year was considered a boom year but 2022 has easily eclipsed it, said city manager Kevin Cormack.

“We have never seen this,” he said. “We are in an extremely busy construction and development period and we have some very large projects coming up, some of the largest that the city has ever seen.”

The city’s building permit values are at a record level, he said, and those do not even include some of the major projects like the Culos Development on the waterfront, the Mount St. Francis development or the Vernon Street project.

People are showing up and want to be here, said Mayor John Dooley, and it’s working. With so many tradespeople employed the unemployment rate is the lowest ever in the city of Nelson, he added.

With building and development showing no sign of slowing in Nelson the city has had to keep pace for its own part, hiring new Development Services staff last year and facilitating development in Nelson through the implementation of new rules for laneway housing.

The rules included increasing the allowable size for laneway houses in terms of the gross floor area, the building footprint, as well as the height.

The increased density allowed on lots in residential neighbourhoods was key to the changes, allowing people to construct three dwelling units on a lot (as long as they meet certain lot size requirements), as compared to previously only two units allowed on a lot.

According to the research done on the impact of laneway housing, allowing greater densification provides an alternative housing solution to single family houses or condominiums, packing a smaller footprint than new single-family homes and less of a visual impact than taller, multi-family buildings.

Boom building

The building boom started early in 2022 and did not let up. Building permit statistics for the city for the first two months of the year showed an increase over 2021, also considered a very active construction year in the city.

Digging into the numbers there were 21 building permit applications submitted to the city’s Development Services to date (end of February), behind the 29 issued in the same time frame in 2021.

However, the value of the permits had risen markedly, to $7.4 million to-date from $2.6 million, driven by $5.6-million worth of multi-unit dwellings. Single family residential homes only accounted for one of the permits.

Hitting the slope

Since 2016 development construction values have been steadily increasing in Nelson, jumping from $15 million five years ago to over $45.7 million in 2019.

Although 2020 saw a decrease to $28.7 million — a decline that likely reflects the impact of COVID-19 — the number figure is still much higher than has traditionally occurred, noted a city staff report from last year.

“The city is still seeing significant construction, even in the face of rising construction materials costs. Similarly, issuance of building permits has steadily increased, from 166 permits in 2016 to over 200 in 2020.”

Dwelling units and development permits rose, peaked in 2019, dropped back down slightly for 2020 and then began to climb again in 2021. In 2016 there were a total of 30 dwelling units under construction in 2016, but four years later the total rose to 194, with a reduction to 61 units in 2020.

Permits followed a similar trajectory, increased from 52 permits in 2016 to over a 100 in 2019, and then down to 94 in 2020.

A look back

The 2018 construction season saw the real beginning of the current boom Nelson is in, not just by single family homes but with some larger projects in the city, including a 47-unit, four-storey development by Nelson Cares located close to Lakeside Park.

The SHARE Housing Initiative — which consisted of a four-storey, 39-unit development with some commercial at grade — got underway that year, with the four-storey Nelson CARES development on Hall Street finalized that same year.

Vernon Street project

Kelowna-based Vendure Retirement Communities has begun a 125-suite state-of-the-art residence for the downtown, with the aim to create a more resort style, active living situation for seniors to live in, right in the heart of the city.

The privately funded and owned project is regulated by the B.C. Registrar and the B.C. Seniors Living Association, and will take approximately two years to build.

The facility will provide assisted living services, with several comfort services such as laundry, chapel, library, therapy room, elevated gardens, bistro/lounge and gymnasium, all things that enhance the lifestyle.

Not only will the city benefit from the construction jobs, but it is expected that up to 90 full and part-time positions will be created by the project once it is done.

The project will be four storeys above the Vernon Street grade, with the main story including 4,000 square feet of non-residential space, likely for a pharmacy or doctor’s offices.

There will be three exterior courtyards — one on the roof and two above the parkade — with a design that will compliment Nelson’s downtown heritage feel.

The units will be leased and will not be for sale — there will be no individual unit sales made — with couples allowed and some units with kitchens. Nursing care will be available 24/7 for residents who may require this service.

The use of solar energy will be explored as will a car share program. The project will not be green built but it will be utilizing a number of environmentally sound practices.

Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nelson Daily