Meyer calls for White Rock waterfront parking-plan revisit

White Rock hillside has long divided the community.

Dozens of trees and foliage have been removed from the slope

A White Rock councillor wants the city to take another look at a 12-year-old proposal for a parking and plaza development on the Marine Drive hillside.

Coun. Grant Meyer told Peace Arch News last week that additional waterfront parking is one of council’s priorities, and due to space constraints in the area, the ‘hump’ is one of only two options, the second being a parkade at the Vidal Street lot location.

Meyer pointed to a plan commissioned by the city in 2003, which called for 125 parking stalls and a pedestrian plaza, as an option for the city to develop the hillside space.

“I think that plan is worth a second look because it combined usable green space… and additional parking. It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” he said. “I don’t think personally the hump was some majestic Stanley Park. It had scrub trees in there, it was, quite frankly, filled with tons of garbage.”

Parking on the hump has long been a divisive topic in White Rock. The 2003 study and proposal – for which the city paid $40,000 – was met with criticism by community groups who felt the green space should be protected. It became the subject of a 1,700-name petition calling on the city to abandon the plans and was eventually voted down 4-3, with then-mayor Judy Forster casting the deciding vote in opposition.

Forster’s decision, in part, came after Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the land, announced it was looking to negotiate for an additional $600,000 in parking revenue from the city.

Had the project been approved, it would have required an Official Community Plan amendment to remove a protective covenant on the hillside, which states the area “is to be maintained in its natural state.”

Meyer said he doesn’t believe the OCP would present a roadblock for the project, as it is currently under review, and noted other council priorities, such as possibly building a restaurant by the pier, would also require development “south of Marine Drive.”

The ‘hump’ has been in the spotlight for much of the year, since the city undertook vegetation removal and slope stability work in May, removing dozens of trees and invasive species, garnering mixed reviews from the public.

In a visit to the hillside Thursday, city manager Dan Bottrill explained to PAN the city was under the impression that slope stability was the responsibility of BNSF, until staff was informed of a 1950 agreement that placed responsibility of the retaining wall below Marine Drive – and anything affecting it – with the city.

Bottrill pointed to what he describes as potential dangers uncovered during the course of the project, including several tree stumps growing out of the hillside at dangerous angles, and one tree growing on top of the retaining wall. He said the state of the retaining wall and hillside was worse than staff had expected.

“I’ve been here almost four years, and Greg (St. Louis, director of engineering) is about the same, and we look at that and say, ‘how did anyone allow that to happen?” Bottrill said, pointing to the tree stump atop the retaining wall. “The only thing I can think of is that nobody knew that this was our problem.”

Regarding the dozens of trees removed from the hillside, Bottrill said many of them had “rotten centres,” and posed a safety hazard to the hillside and track below.

“When a tree falls, it doesn’t necessarily snap, it takes everything with it,” he said. “When that goes over and pulls that much soil out of there, that’s a real problem on a hillside.”

Bottrill said while the hillside looks “at its worst” right now, replanting work will commence in the spring. In the meantime, he said, he understands why people have reacted negatively to the work, but insisted it “had to be done”.

“I can appreciate that people are not happy, I get that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, our number-one concern is going to be that retaining wall and the slope stability.”

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