Anger, irritation and curiosity were among emotions that swirled around the gallery at White Rock Community Centre this week, as dozens turned out to view concept plans for the site currently home to White Rock Mufflers.
As residents – including immediate neighbours of – explored more than 20 storyboards outlining the Marine Drive property’s history, why development is being considered and elements of the six-storey project that may be built there, many who voiced opposition said their beef isn’t with the fact the site may be developed.
What they aren’t happy about is the developer’s desire to build beyond what current zoning allows.
“I’m not opposed to development – if they want to do what the rest of us did and stick to the three storeys,” said Shawn Boyce, a realtor who built near Oxford Street and Roper Avenue a year ago.
Boyce said the city wouldn’t entertain any leeway to the zoning restrictions when her home was being built, and shouldn’t for this project either.
“How arrogant is it to ask for six?” she fumed. “We were shot to the inch. Stick to the zoning.”
According to information presented Tuesday evening, responses to three options for the site – gathered at a previous public meeting Jan. 31 – led proponents to conceive a six-storey, terraced project with 125 to 140 condominiums and 6,500 square feet of retail space. The project is proposed to spread beyond the muffler-shop site to two additional single-family lots on Buena Vista Avenue.
To proceed, the city’s Official Community Plan would have to be amended to consolidate the lots, and rezoning would be needed to accommodate the additional height.
While proponents insist the project – with a combined construction and land value of $40 million – would neither impact views nor property values, residents who live on Buena Vista directly behind the site disagree.
Six storeys “would delete our view,” said Hollie Whitehead, noting residents are banding together to fight the project.
Whatever is built should be “what the community wants,” within current zoning and not dictated by a developer, she said.
Neighbour Doug Hart agreed.
“Just because you have deep pockets doesn’t mean you can change the rules,” Hart said.
Hart was particularly offended by a statement on one storyboard that said it is important to the site owners, who have paid high taxes and are planning for retirement, to “recoup as much as they can from the sale of this site.”
“That’s ridiculous; that’s asinine,” Hart said.
Not all who attended Tuesday were upset by what they saw.
In a letter to Peace Arch News, White Rock resident Larry Robinson says he believes the project will anchor the “badly needed” rejuvenation of Marine Drive.
“The muffler shop project is a stark reminder that much of Marine Drive is a borderline slum with buildings past their functional life and currently 12 businesses for sale to join those already gone,” Robinson writes. “A new development built to seaside beach town guidelines will act as a template for future development that can bring White Rock, the most beautiful site on the south coast, to its full potential.”
Architect Tim Ankenman said the concept was “well-received by as many as we could have hoped for.” Noting a “large segment” of the community has expressed support for the project, he acknowledged there is resistance to what has been proposed.
“It’s not going to be an easy ride,” he told Peace Arch News.
Describing the site’s depth as an anomaly, Ankenman said the project has to go higher than three storeys in order to meet the objective of creating views for those who will live there. At three storeys, 10 per cent of the residents would have a view, he said.
Ankenman said the idea that area residents’ views will be blocked by the project is a misconception.
Developer Robert Wilson, a Steveston resident, acknowledged the strong resistance to the proposed height. But such projects are the only way to achieve the density White Rock needs, he said, noting six storeys is the only way to put parking above the flood line.
While a number of councillors and Mayor Catherine Ferguson attended Tuesday’s meeting, the proposal has yet to come before council – a point resident Doug Stone took issue with.
“Council should not put the public through all this disruption when the probability is that they’re not going to probably approve it,” Stone, the city’s former director of operations, said. “Change of this magnitude should be before council first.”
Wilson said if there is no appetite at the council level for the zoning changes that are being requested, “then we’ll have to re-look at the total project,” he said.