City of White Rock officials could look at increasing height limits and density as a means of improving the city's future commercial viability

Building heights ‘key to White Rock’s viability’

If the City of White Rock wants to strengthen its commercial prospects, it may want to reconsider its height restrictions citywide.

If the City of White Rock wants to strengthen its commercial prospects, it may want to reconsider its height restrictions citywide.

The suggestion was made in a draft Business Needs Assessment presented to council by Coriolis Consulting Corp.’s Jay Wollenberg Monday.

The comprehensive study was commissioned to assess the market needs and sustainability of commercial business in the city, as part of developing a long-term vision.

In sharing the height observation, Wollenberg acknowledged it is “not without controversy.”

Height has long been a topic of hot debate in the city, inflamed by Bosa Properties’ half-completed, four-tower Miramar Village project in the town centre.

In 2010, council voted to amend the Official Community Plan to reduce limit heights in the town centre from 21 to 12 storeys, and density from 3.8 floor-area-ratio to 2.75 – a move Wollenberg said likely reduced the number of sites in the area that are attractive for development.

“If you want to stimulate redevelopment to accommodate population growth and new retail floor space, you probably need to think about the recent density you had before amending the Official Community Plan,” Wollenberg said.

“We would encourage you to pursue that if you want to be more financially viable.”

The suggestion – among many in the 114-page report – drew criticism from Coun. Lynne Sinclair.

“If height and density is so beneficial for economic growth, why didn’t the Bosa development have that impact on White Rock?” she said, citing the project’s two yet-to-be-built towers and the loss of a planned liquor store.

Change wouldn’t be immediate, Wollenberg responded. The point would be to create opportunities.

“If your policies don’t allow sufficient height and density, where there is opportunity in the market, you won’t be able to take advantage of it,” he said. “You need to think of it as creating a playing field.”

The draft also suggests increasing allowed heights in the Lower Town Centre (Five Corners) to at least four storeys; higher limits could also make East and West Beach more attractive to developers, but would need to be looked at on a site-by-site basis, Wollenberg said.

Coun. Helen Fathers later told Peace Arch News public outcry regarding a proposal for the White Rock Muffler site on West Beach demonstrates there’s still a dichotomy in the city when it comes to height, and the balance has yet to be found.

Mayor Catherine Ferguson said she wasn’t surprised with the report’s points on height and density. She was among those who opposed the 2010 move to reduce height limits.

She said while the report produced little in the way of new information, it was “absolutely” useful to hear the information from someone who has no vested interest in it.

Other points in the assessment include a suggestion that the city and BIA should focus on recruiting one or more grocery stores to the town centre; and that retail space should be focused on Johnston Road between North Bluff Road and Roper Avenue.

Council voted to discuss the report’s findings in greater depth at a future planning session.


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