Opposing views of Oxford proposal heighten emotions

A woman addresses proponents of The Oxford during Wednesday
A woman addresses proponents of The Oxford during Wednesday's public meeting at First United Church.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

An idea to build two highrises near the top of White Rock's Oxford Street got mixed, sometimes heated, reaction Wednesday during a public-information meeting hosted at First United Church.

Those in favour of the project – suggested as 21- and 24-storey buildings with nearly an acre of preserved green space – cited the need to build higher given the limited amount of land in White Rock; a desire to see positive change in the city; and the benefit to the city's tax base.

Opponents – who comprised the majority of those who spoke – expressed concern with the impact to traffic in the area; that it doesn't fit with the city's Official Community Plan; and that it is too high.

"The major concern is definitely over the height," Mark Sager of Sager LLP, said Thursday of thoughts heard regarding The Oxford. "The second concern would be traffic."

The meeting was the third held regarding plans eyed for the 2.7-acre parcel, which has been purchased by the developer from Epcor, the city's water provider, subject to an OCP change and rezoning.

The site is currently designated 'multi-unit residential/low density' and zoned for civic/institutional use. For the project to proceed, it needs a designation of 'multi-unit residential/high density' and zoning for comprehensive development.

Area residents Barb Attfield and Jeanette Banta were among approximately 150 people who attended Wednesday's meeting. Both women said they are opposed to the project because it goes against the OCP and "just doesn't fit in with the neighbourhood."

"We're hoping that it doesn't go through," Banta said, adding she would like to see the city buy the property.

Margaret Fraser, who lives on the fourth floor of the 12-storey Belaire – located just north of the planned development, at the corner of Oxford Street and North Bluff Road – said noise and traffic are her biggest concerns with the project. She also feels the height is too much.

"It just seems like they take over," Fraser said as she examined one of more than a dozen display boards outlining the plans.

During a brief presentation, Sager and architect Richard Bernstein explained the designs on display were the result of feedback from the two previous meetings, held Jan. 23 and Feb. 20, where tree loss was the major concern heard.

Sager noted that the alternative is to build 12-storey buildings, an option that would not preserve the green space.

Bernstein said the "gently curving" form of the two-building plan will also maximize southern and western views from the 124 units – 67 in one building, and 57 in the other, ranging in size from 2,000 to 3,100 square feet.

Access to the buildings would be from Oxford Street, and all parking – for residents and visitors alike – will be underground.

"We're trying to do something that doesn't interfere with what's there," Bernstein said.

During a question-and-answer period, a South Surrey woman who spoke favourably about the plans was heckled, as were other supporters.

"Excuse me, are you paid by the developer?" one man called out from the crowd, prompting meeting facilitator Catherine Rockandel to remind attendees to be respectful of each others' opinions – a reminder she had to repeat on a number of occasions.

Another man said he wanted to "compliment the architect on making White Rock look like Brentwood Mall."

One supporter suggested the naysayers "grow up." Another suggested many who oppose the development "have their own agendas why they don't want this to go through."

Assurance from proponents that traffic would not be negatively impacted was greeted with laughter and disbelief.

Sager said Thursday the next step will be determined after feedback from the public meeting is compiled and reviewed.

If the project goes ahead as proposed, Bernstein said each highrise would take about two years to build.


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