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Former Langley City mayor says developers ‘jerked around’ by White Rock council

Advisory Design Panel member suggests development proposal looks like a ‘boat’
WestStone Group’s application for a four-storey apartment building off Vidal Street in White Rock was turned down. (WestStone Group rendering)

A former Langley City mayor is taking issue with White Rock council after it shot down a four-storey purpose-built rental building before it progressed to first hearing.

Peter Fassbender contacted Peace Arch News and said he was “profoundly disappointed” after the city’s Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC), made up of White Rock council members, declined, in a 4-2 vote, to progress a WestStone Group development proposal to a regular council meeting.

Fassbender, who also sat as Surrey-Fleetwood MLA from 2013-17, was hired by WestStone as a consultant.

“I think the people in the area need to know how developers are being jerked around and how they’re missing opportunities to get more rental housing,” Fassbender said.

The application involves a wood-frame residential apartment building over a three-storey concrete parkade. The building’s design includes 82 rental units and 127 parking spaces. It would replace a number of properties just south of the Beverley building, located at 1441, 1443-45 and 1465 Vidal St. and 14937 Thrift Ave.

The LUPC reviewed the proposal Nov. 22 after the city’s Advisory Design Panel (ADP) unanimously voted to deny the application as presented. Even though the application was denied by the ADP, city staff presented it to LUPC.

The ADP is an independent body appointed by council that evaluates, analyzes and assesses the design of development application proposals.

The proposal was submitted to council in 2019 as a six-storey apartment building. The city’s official community plan, at the time, allowed a six-storey structure on the lot, but that was eventually lowered to four storeys.

Over the course of the four ADP meetings, which is considered to be more than the usual number, WestStone “bent over backwards” to accommodate recommendations made by the ADP, Fassbender said. City planner Greg Newman, who has since left the city, also noted to LUPC that WestStone made “numerous” changes throughout the process.

And while the ADP was not in support of the project, Newman told the LUPC that he respectfully disagreed with their decision.

“I think there’s enough value in the design to bring it forward to have a conversation more directly with the public and council to see where the main issues remain,” Newman told the LUPC.

One of the primary concerns of the ADP, and some members of council, was that the length of the building did not align with the character of the neighbourhood. One ADP member referred to the structure, which Fassbender said is 350-feet long, as a “ large boat.”

During the LUPC meeting, Coun. Christopher Trevelyan said his principal concern with the project was that it was not supported by the ADP.

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“The ADP is not an anti-development ADP – perhaps the opposite. It’s not offered non-support to any other developments that have come to us. When it’s a unanimous no, from that ADP, which has approved everything else, it’s a big concern of mine and I worry about undermining our ADP,” Trevelyan said.

Coun. Erika Johanson agreed.

“We have an ADP for a reason. It did come to the ADP four times and four times it was, I understand …denied,” Johanson said to the LUPC. “To move it forward at this point would basically mean we don’t need an ADP.”

Johanson added that she would prefer to see townhouses instead of a residential building.

Coun. Anthony Manning suggested to the LUPC that the proposal be separated into two buildings. He said he heard from residents that the project is too dense.

Coun. Scott Kristjanson told the committee that he also heard concerns about density. Kristjanson said neighbours he spoke to preferred townhouses instead of a residential building.

Coun. David Chesney and Mayor Darryl Walker voted in support of the project, while Kristjanson, Trevelyan, Johanson and Manning voted against. Coun. Helen Fathers was not present.

Fassbender suggested council has “bowed to pressure” from a “coalition” of residents that mostly live in the adjacent 12-storey Beverley building.

“The developer meets all of the criteria of the (official community plan). And if people don’t like the look of the building, that gets pretty subjective, you know,” Fassbender said.

Fassbender said council has sent a message to other developers potentially looking at White Rock as a suitable place to build: “You’re not welcome. We’ll put you through hoops, we’ll drag you through all kinds of things and at the end, we will reject your project.”

WestStone has been returned its application and fee for the application, but “they’re not cashing the cheque at this point.”

“Fighting local government is not easy. But when it’s unreasonable and not based on sound principles and logic, it’s very frustrating. And that’s why White Rock has challenges in getting people to come and want to help develop the future of that community,” Fassbender said.

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