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Show of force against height
Proponents of a controversial proposal for an iconic White Rock waterfront site received a frosty response Monday, as area residents – many carrying ‘Stick to the OCP’ lawn signs – packed council chambers for the city’s land use and planning committee meeting.
“My simple answer to this is indeed simple – it’s no,” said Coun. Mary-Wade Anderson, following a presentation by architect Tim Ankenman on the project proposed for the White Rock Mufflers site.
“It has to go back, have another look.”
A staff recommendation that the committee support sending the project to council for first and second readings was not considered.
Georgia Laine Developments has asked for zoning and Official Community Plan amendments in order to construct a three-building residential/commercial complex on 1.14 acres encompassing 14807 Marine Dr., 1184 Oxford St. and 14818 to 14832 Buena Vista Ave.
The proposal includes about 84 residential units – condominiums and townhouses – as well as ground-level commercial space, with the latter to front Marine Drive.
The OCP amendments are needed to change the designations of two lots in the parcel from residential to commercial, which would increase the lots’ allowed height from 25 feet to 37 feet; the zoning amendment is to enable the proponents to build higher on the other legal lots than the 37 feet the existing commercial zoning allows.
Sale of the property is dependent on approval of a viable development. White Rock Mufflers owner Richard Saunders told Peace Arch News the deal is set to close Aug. 22, but will go back to square one if conditions can’t be met.
Residents have voiced concerns about the project’s height since January, when the concept of building on the site was first raised. Initially, the developer presented height scenarios of six, nine and 15 storeys. At an April public-information meeting, a concept plan for a six-storey, terraced project was showcased.
After fielding public opposition to that, the city recommended the developer scale the plan back even further. It now stands at four storeys, with two-storey townhouses over commercial space along Marine Drive.
While a July 11 city report notes a majority of those opposed to the first two concepts had indicated a preference for a three- or four-storey development, residents who turned out Monday said they don’t want anything that goes higher than what current regulations allow.
“If they let this go, how can they say no to the next guy?” Vivian Westwood said prior to the meeting, citing the rise of towers in the town centre as an example of what happens when one developer is allowed to step outside city rules.
Scaling the project back to four storeys doesn’t change her view, she added.
“The point remains, is they still want to change the Official Community Plan. That, to me, is the crucial point,” she said. “It leaves an open door for any other developer to come in and push higher. It’ll change White Rock forever.”
Speaking for developer Robert Wilson – who declined to address the committee – architect Tim Ankenman told committee members the current proposal is “a very highly sensitive solution” to the site.
It is to include a variety of housing choices, along with sustainable features such as a green roof, an on-site composting program and a car-sharing program.
“It would be unprecedented in terms of its livability,” he said.
Ankenman disagreed the project would greatly impact residents’ views and disputed it would set a height precedent.
“We believe we are conforming to the intent of the OCP,” he said.
Ankenman noted door-to-door contact in the area indicated the project was well-supported. However, when a man in the gallery questioned who among the dozens of area residents in attendance had been approached, no one said they had.
Sheila Quail, a member of the development team, told the committee she collected 88 letters of support. An effort to present the letters to the committee was ruled out of order.
In response to a question from Coun. Helen Fathers, Quail said she didn’t know why the project is getting negative reviews from neighbours if it isn’t going to block views.
And while Ankenman cited taller projects in East Beach as further example the proposal isn’t setting any height precedents, Coun. Lynne Sinclair noted – and the city’s director of planning and development services, Paul Stanton, confirmed – the existing projects are set against steep inclines and don’t impact views.
Couns. Al Campbell and Doug McLean also expressed concerns.
After confirming with Stanton that the additional height requested was to enable a fourth storey, Campbell described the developer coming forward with anything above what the regulations allow in the first place as “cavalier.” To later present a scaled-down version that continues to exceed zoning limits is no better, he said.
The plan needs to be brought “to the expectations of the people who moved there,” Campbell said.
Campbell later told Peace Arch News the solution for proponents is simple: “Why don’t you just go away and come back with 37 feet? That’s the answer – build what you bought.”
McLean told PAN he is concerned on three points: the design for the project’s southwest corner, at Marine and Oxford Street, is not what he envisioned; he doesn’t support the additional height sought; and the project will sit on the floodplain.
Coun. Grant Meyer did not speak to the project, but added his vote to unanimous support for a motion by Mayor Catherine Ferguson. The motion calls on the developer to relook the role of the two residential lots in the proposal to see if design elements that fit within the existing zoning can be found.
Meyer told PAN Wednesday he can’t see the project going ahead as-is. He believes how the project was first introduced to residents played a role in the opposition the developer continues to face.
“I think the whole thing just… really left people a bad taste when they had the original public information thing and they came out saying 15 storeys or nine,” Meyer said.
“They whole project got people angry right from the get-go. I definitely think it’s probably not going to go anywhere unless it comes down to within the height range.”