Robinson calls for increased density in White Rock

A 20-unit townhouse complex has been proposed for four Finlay Street lots across from Peace Arch Hospital, adjacent to the B.C. Hydro substation. - Tracy Holmes photo
A 20-unit townhouse complex has been proposed for four Finlay Street lots across from Peace Arch Hospital, adjacent to the B.C. Hydro substation.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes photo

If White Rock is going to become the vibrant seaside city that previous councils have envisioned, serious strides will have to be made towards increasing its tax base.

And that, argues Coun. Larry Robinson, means boosting density on the outskirts and building higher in the town centre.

Having that goal in mind, Robinson says, prompted him to describe a townhouse project proposed for east of Peace Arch Hospital as “just not a good use of the dirt” during last week’s land use and planning committee meeting.

Following discussion of a staff recommendation to move a requested zoning amendment forward to public hearing, the committee voted 5-1 in favour of authorizing staff to proceed with scheduling the hearing, with Robinson casting the opposing vote.

Robinson told Peace Arch News Thursday that he “made a fuss” about the project – a four-building, 20-unit complex proposed for 1526, 1536, 1550 and 1556 Finlay St. – “because I’m setting the table for what’s going to happen out there… for changing zoning.”

He said this will apply particularly to the area bounded by Johnston Road to the east, Thrift Avenue to the south, Oxford Street to the west and North Bluff Road to the north.

The area is home to a number of older condominiums and townhouses, and Robinson predicts changes will be necessary as the land becomes available for development in the years ahead. Without changes to current zoning to allow increased density – including heights up to 20 storeys along Johnston Road – many homeowners “will never get their equity out of there,” he said.

“Those sweet old people that live in there… they’ll never get their money out unless we can say to a developer, ‘OK, we’ll give you 10 to 12 storeys, but you build us two storeys of, let’s say, affordable housing.’”

The project proposed for Finlay Street, he said, would make much more sense as two-storey townhouses with a floor of condos above.

“I’m thinking purely of the tax base,” he said. “I’m all for the townhouses as infill on these two or three lots that are just sort of orphan lots, but when we get a big chunk of land, I think we have to start looking at higher density.”

Responding to Robinson’s comments at the May 14 meeting, planning and development services director Paul Stanton told the committee that policies for the Eastside Residential Infill Area the current project is proposed for were adopted about two years ago, and were the result of “fairly extensive” public consultation.

“What we have on this application is a response to the policies we have now,” Stanton said, noting denser applications would require revisiting those policies.

While Coun. Louise Hutchinson described the project as “an excellent proposal for the transition zone” from the hydro substation – located immediately north of the subject lots – to single-family, Robinson disagreed. Noting adjacent lots are in the process of being amalgamated, he said the city needs to provide a transition zone that “makes sense 20 years from now.”

“When we get an acre of land, we really have to look at what’s the maximum tax base we can get out of it,” he told PAN. “For us to do all these great projects we want to do, like redoing the promenade, putting wires underground… all this stuff is going to take a lot of money.”

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