Plans to upgrade and beautify White Rock’s Johnston Road corridor continue to grate on business owners and residents alike, city officials learned last week.
At a public meeting scheduled to share updated concept plans, members of the task force behind the proposed changes – which affect the sidewalks, the trees, crosswalks and access to Central Plaza – were battered with questions and criticism Wednesday.
Much of the angst focused on a plan to remove mature trees that line both sides of the thoroughfare, with many attendees suggesting ways to preserve them.
And while the city’s arborist patiently explained why each suggestion had already been ruled out or simply wasn’t possible without substantial additional cost – or a guarantee of success – a promise from the mayor to get an independent opinion did not sit well with the task force chair.
Coun. Al Campbell told Peace Arch News Friday that the move “was almost a smack in the face” to the city’s arborist, and may ultimately do nothing more than drive up the project’s overall cost.
“Every single suggestion that came up was thought of before,” Campbell said, referring also to those from the engineers involved.
“These are in-house professionals that we have making decisions every day.
“Sometimes it’s disheartening when a very small group of people can bring something to a standstill, especially when they’re challenging experts. They’re challenging experts with guesswork.”
More than 60 people turned out for the meeting at White Rock Community Centre – the second one held for the public.
Questions and comments were fielded after civil engineer Stuart Nash reviewed changes that were made to the concept plans as a result of feedback gathered at a June 24 meeting. There, attendees learned that Phase 1 work proposed to bring the road and sidewalks up to current standards and increase safety for motorists and pedestrians included adding a fence to the median, eliminating the left-turn lane into Central Plaza for northbound traffic and removing mature trees.
Wednesday, Nash told attendees that the median fence – suggested to help curb jaywalking – is no longer on the table.
“We got a lot of feedback that that is not desirable,” he said.
As well, a proposed southward shift of the crosswalk at Central Plaza has been reduced.
Aside from wanting to know more about options for the trees, attendees’ questions ranged from why can’t the work be done as the strip’s older buildings are redeveloped, to has the issue of contaminated soil at Russell Avenue and Johnston Road been addressed. A number of people also wanted to know why consultation did not involve the whole community from the get-go.
Bob Ambardar, the city’s engineer, explained that a preliminary plan was needed first.
“We can’t show up to a meeting like this and say, ‘what are we going to do?’” he said.
He disputed one woman’s accusation that the group came to the community with a set agenda.
“Some people think we’ve already decided everything, but clearly we’ve made changes,” Ambardar said. “We haven’t tried to railroad anything. Please understand, we are listening. There are conflicting priorities.”
“Yes,” the woman retorted, “your priorities and ours.”
Longtime resident Denise Grant called for an alternative plan that includes the mature trees, “and a task force that is not headed by an employee of Imperial Paving,” presumably a reference to Campbell’s day job as a contracts administrator.
Lynne Sinclair, head of the White Rock Business Improvement Association and a former councillor, said members are frustrated consultation did not begin earlier.
“The problem is, we were forced to react to something,” she said.
The proposed loss of street parking was also named as a concern, with one woman worried the impact to her business could be a repeat of that experienced during construction of Miramar Village – a 70 per cent drop.
Central Plaza owner Mitch Evanish described the targeted left-turn lane as “critical” to tenants.
But Campbell told PAN the turn should never have been put there in the first place.
“It was just knocked out with a sledgehammer and it’s just been there ever since,” he said. “They’re pretty firm, the engineers, this really isn’t going to work unless that left-hand lane is deleted.”
Mayor Wayne Baldwin assured attendees the end result will be “something you’ll be proud of.”
“Our first wish is to make this place better,” he said.
“We will not just jam this down your throat. We’re going to talk to people and we’re going to make sure we get it right.”
Campbell said the task force will meet this week to review Wednesday’s comments. He reiterated that, despite remarks to the latter, uptown businesses are a priority for the task force.