White Rock’s OCP a contentious issue

White Rock is a city in transition, and some of those transitions aren’t wearing too well.

Several weeks ago, business owner Jazz Mattu arrived at his Russell Avenue business, White Rock Wellness Centre, to find access blocked off by a construction crew, a trench and excavator. They were working on the Bosa Properties development, which will see four highrise towers built on the west side of Johnston Road between Russell and Thrift.

Last week, residents came out in force to protest plans for a six-storey residential and commercial development on Victoria Avenue. Residents were upset not to have had notice of the plans for the property, and there were specific concerns raised about its height.

As has long been the case, view preservation is a major issue in White Rock, where property values are closely related to the ocean view available.

Council turned down the development permit application, and it appears that the development will need to undergo significant changes if it is to get future approval.

One of the biggest issues in the city right now is the Official Community Plan. Mayor Judy Forster told the White Rock and South Surrey Chamber of Commerce last week that it is probably the most important document the city is dealing with.

“We are a city in transition, and we are facing many changes,” she said.

Truer words were never spoken.

The OCP is again under revision, as is the case in all cities at one time or another. The most recent draft suggested that buildings taller than 35 feet would be permissible outside the city centre.

While this is no surprise, given that Bosa is going ahead and White Rock is a highly desirable area to live, it is a major step in a new direction.

Coun. James Coleridge has gone as far as suggesting that there should be a referendum on any such change to the OCP. He believes most residents oppose taller buildings outside the town centre, and he also says taller buildings scattered throughout the city will have a negative impact on the town centre.

At present, buildings taller than 35 feet are restricted to an area bounded by George and Foster Streets and North Bluff and Thrift Avenues.

While the Bosa proposal has been controversial, I am convinced it will be a good thing for White Rock in the long run. It will give more focus to the town centre area, a focus that is needed, given the lack of shopping as compared to development across North Bluff Road in South Surrey.

It will bring in more residents, encourage more development and allow for a greater concentration of shops and services.

Last week, I came to White Rock on a midweek evening to review the latest White Rock Players Club production, The Dawn Patrol.

I haven’t been uptown on a weekday evening for some time, and I must confess to being surprised at just how eerily quiet it was.

The same is often true along the waterfront in the months between October and April. This shouldn’t be, given the variety of restaurants, entertainment and activities White Rock offers.

If White Rock is going to reach its potential, it needs to change. There needs to be higher densities, a broader mix of age groups, more businesses and a far more vibrant nightlife.

The decision on allowing highrises has been made. There has been an election on the issue, and the majority spoke, either by voting for pro-Bosa councillors or not voting at all.

However, that election was not fought on the issue of high-rises throughout the city, or scattered in several locations. As Coleridge says, the draft OCP changes things dramatically.

Transition is never easy.

Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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