RDN Planning Nanaimo Airport Consultations
The Regional District is planning a region wide public consultation process on the Nanaimo Airport to involve the community in providing input on airport development. Public consultations on the airport will help shape long range planning policies for the RDN, and potentially lead to an Accord between the RDN and the Nanaimo Airport Commission (NAC) over certain aspects of development on Airport lands. It is expected that the proposed process, endorsed by the Area 'A' OCP Review Citizen's Committee and also adopted by the RDN Board, will provide greater certainty to all stakeholders regarding the future development of Nanaimo Airport lands.
Recent media reports have exposed a continuing misunderstanding and confusion over local government authority in relation to development at the airport. The RDN is taking this opportunity to clarify its position acknowledging federal government jurisdiction over aviation related land-use and development at the airport.
"The RDN is faced with the challenge of integrating public input on the Nanaimo Airport into its long-range plans, while recognizing federal jurisdiction over airports where all development related to aviation is concerned," said Electoral 'A' Director Joe Burnett. "It has become clear that we need a separate forum for public consultation on the Airport so that our Area 'A' OCP can proceed. Our legal position on the airport also leaves room to pursue regulatory options where non-aviation development at the airport is concerned, and we need to work directly with local residents, the broader region, and the Nanaimo Airport Commission to establish a framework for addressing with these land-use questions."
The need for public input specific to the airport has arisen over the past two years for two reasons. First, through discussions at the Area 'A' OCP Review, which started in 2008 and includes regular meetings between RDN staff, elected officials, and an citizen's committee of local residents, questions have arisen about how the airport intends to develop its lands. The airport's local significance, both economically and environmentally, has often resulted in airport issues to taking precedence over other planning issues, extending the already lengthy Review process.
Second, the airport has expressed an interest in recent months in developing its groundside lands to enhance its economic viability. As a result, there is a need to have a clear understanding of how that development will occur over time to ensure that this development is consistent with the overall goals of the Regional Growth Strategy and Electoral Area 'A' Official Community Plan where the intended development is non-airport related. In July the RDN Board directed staff to prepare a separate consultation plan for the airport. The Board also removed a section in the draft OCP relating to the airport, with the understanding that the document could be amended at a later date following separate consultations on the airport.
A separate process to identify and respond to community concerns regarding the airport will require significant RDN resources and a region-wide scope, since the airport is widely used by all local communities. The RDN cannot accommodate this project until next year, pending 2011 budget deliberations. Representatives of the NAC have indicated an interest in moving forward on a Master Planning process for the airport aimed at providing greater certainty and clarity regarding future development. The RDN has called on the NAC to undertake this level of consultation for some time and it is well timed to be aligned with the proposed broad public consultation on the airport to be undertaken by the RDN.
Local Government Jurisdiction Over Airport Lands
In 2007 the RDN issued a news release acknowledging that airport lands and aeronautic-related land use is excluded from local government jurisdiction. Since then the RDN has also determined that it could pursue the application of local government regulation at the airport to address operations that would not affect a vital aspect of airport function. It is out of this situation that the community consultation on the airport proposed for 2011 has been developed to address perceived and real gaps in jurisdiction and to provide clarity on the future of the airport for all stakeholders
Canadian and provincial courts have consistently upheld federal jurisdiction over airports, where development related to aviation is concerned. In reality land use or development can be interpreted quite broadly where any use might be argued that it is connected to airport operation and considered "vital" and thereby avoid local government regulation. To date, recent development undertaken at the airport has been directly related to airport operation.
It is not the RDN's position that the Nanaimo Airport is entirely exempt from local government jurisdiction and regulation with respect to development. The proposed public review of the airport and airport development along with the Master Planning work to be undertaken by the NAC is intended to ensure that proposed development is consistent with local government land use regulations where the use cannot be reasonably connected to aviation.
It is important to note that the RDN has consistently supported the Nanaimo Airport as a key economic driver and an important transportation link for the entire region. The Regional District has supported NAC in engaging with the local and broader community in planning and developing the recent upgrades and expansions to their airside operations. The RDN and the NAC are committed to continuing this process of consultation and cooperation to ensure that any and all future development at the airport occurs with a view to sustainable practices and protection of local attributes of significance, particularly with respect to the Cassidy Aquifer. It is expected the consultation process planned for 2011 will provide the necessary understanding and information to secure these protections within RDN regulations.
General Manager, Development Services
Regional District of Nanaimo
250-390-6530 or 1-877-607-4111