Michael Armstrong looks over designs proposed for White Rock's town centre

Michael Armstrong looks over designs proposed for White Rock's town centre

Future of White Rock ‘down to political will’

When it comes to the future of White Rock’s town centre, there are many visions of what it should look like.

When it comes to the future of White Rock’s town centre, there are many visions of what it should look like.

For some, the picture includes more pedestrian pathways. Others can see a treed buffer along North Bluff, distancing the city from the bustle of the busy thoroughfare that separates it from Surrey.

Many who participated in the recent ‘charette’ agreed a town square should be in the heart of it all – a place for concerts and other gatherings that would bring the community together.

But while interest in transforming the uptown area into something better was evident at a community consultative forum held last week, optimism the vision would ever become reality was lacking.

“It’s obviously good to have a plan,” said Michael Armstrong, a White Rock resident who participated in the two-day charette in April that led to the June 29 forum.  “It’s everybody just waiting to see something happen. It’ll be beautiful if it happens.”

Armstrong was among several who gathered for the April discussions. He was among more than 50 who attended the White Rock Community Centre Wednesday to see how the ideas had been interpreted – and was disappointed to find a town square lacking from the designs presented.

He was not the only one with doubts as to whether the ideas would come to fruition.

“Historically in White Rock, the developer has been driving the engine when it comes to what we’ve gotten,” one woman commented during a question-and-answer period. “How do we guarantee this charette won’t be put on a shelf somewhere and forgotten? Where does this plan fit in terms of becoming policy that can’t be over-ridden?”

According to Paul Stanton, the city’s director of planning, that will require action on the part of staff and council to integrate whatever plan the community supports into White Rock’s Official Community Plan.

“You come up with a plan, you make it policy, you make it regulation – that’s how you keep it in place,” Stanton said.

It will also be incumbent on the community to hold the city to the plan, said Lance Berelowitz, an urban planner and architect whose design team is helping the city prepare the town centre plan.

“I guess it will come down to political will, as expressed by you folks every three years or so,” Berelowitz told the crowd.

In walking attendees through a series of design panels, Berelowitz emphasized the sketches do not represent a set-in-stone vision, “but a wide range of interests and ideas” for the area, bounded by Martin Street to the west, George Street to the east, Thrift Avenue to the south and North Bluff Road.

“We were trying to open things up rather than narrow them down,” he said.

Berelowitz noted less than 50 per cent of the land in the study area is likely to be redeveloped over the plan’s lifetime – 20-25 years.

Other ideas presented included extending Bryant Park north across Russell Street; increasing pedestrian connectivity; establishing gateways at each end of the town centre; moving city hall uptown; and implementing more traffic calming.

Berelowitz recommended focusing retail along Johnston Road, widening sidewalks and keeping building heights along the thoroughfare to four storeys, with anything above that set back from the main road.

Meetings to further refine the plan will be held, Stanton said. The hope is a final plan will be ready for council’s perusal in September.

Stanton said it will take at least a year to consider all of the things that would have to be done to implement a long-term plan for the town centre, and another two to three years to put those elements in place.

Mayor Catherine Ferguson encouraged citizens to play a role. She described the process as “our opportunity as a community to shape the future of our city.”

A similar process will soon get underway for the waterfront, she added.