White Rock council listens to comments regarding a two-storey highrise project proposed for Oxford Street

Second hearing over highrises proposed for White Rock’s Oxford Street

Supporters outnumber opponents at podium, but reverse is true for written submissions, petition

A twice-deferred public hearing for a controversial twin-highrise project proposed for White Rock’s Oxford Street drew about 75 people to the city’s uptown community centre Tuesday.

Aside from the lower turnout, there were a number of similarities between the evening’s meeting and the 1454 Oxford St. project’s first public hearing, held a year ago with a capacity crowd.

This week’s hearing lasted just one hour less – nearly four hours instead of five – and far more people voiced support for the 21- and 24-storey buildings than opposition.

And, like last year, emotions ran high at times, prompting Mayor Wayne Baldwin to cut some opponents short when he said their comments crossed the line. One opponent called on all of council to “resign immediately”; a supporter criticized opponents for “constant heckling” of supporters who do not live in the city itself.

“Please, grow up,” the man said, directing the comment at one particular opponent.

The meeting was called to hear comments on proposed rezoning and Official Community Plan amendment bylaws, as well as a proposed phased development agreement (PDA) bylaw, for the Elegant Development project.

Acting planning and development services director Kurt Alberts explained to attendees that the latter was deemed necessary after Elegant proponents decided to phase in the two towers; a move company principal Jay Minhas told Peace Arch News last month was “a marketing decision.”

“There’s no way we can do both towers at the same time, so we need to phase them,” Minhas said.

As a result, it was determined that a PDA would “better-secure” a $3.6-million cash-in-lieu community amenity contribution, Alberts said. The agreement will also set a timeline for construction, which attendees heard would begin with the 21-storey building on the site’s west side.

Alberts said that as the PDA decision came after the project was given third reading last December – and therefore deemed to be new information – staff recommended council rescind third reading.

Tuesday, arguments heard both for and against were also not unlike those heard a year ago.

Opponents expressed concerns with height, density, traffic impact, the site’s location outside of the town centre and its proximity to the city’s aquifer and chlorine-treatment plant. Some also asked council to “not be influenced” by non-residents, unless they have a proven stake in the community.

A number of opponents referenced last year’s purchase of the water utility from Epcor by the city for a yet-to-be arbitrated price and the coinciding request for rezoning of the subject site, then-owned by Epcor.

Supporters described a “high-quality” and “affordable” product that would bring needed economic support to small businesses, such as those along the waterfront.

Colleen Austin, a White Rock resident, said the project makes sense, given the limited area available to build in the city.

“There’s only so much ocean property, and if we can’t go out, we’ve got to go up,” she said.

Austin cautioned opponents that, should the Elegant plan be rejected, future proposals for the site may not include the same attention to green space, noting a one-acre parcel the developer has promised to gift to the city for public use.

“Be careful what you wish for, people,” she said. “That parcel of green space could disappear.”

Another supporter, Matt Cameron, said that without such developments, “there’s not going to be anything left for us millennials.”

Gerry Kirk, however, was among opponents to dispute the notion that the units will be affordable.

“The average price will be… in the millions,” he said.

When Kirk stood a second time, he said council doesn’t have a mandate to rezone the properties, and suggested they each retain a lawyer “if you continue to pursue this.”

Baldwin cut Kirk short when the speaker, who noted he was a police officer for 33 years, made an accusation involving “kickbacks.”

“If you’re a cop, you know the word ‘defamation’, and I suggest you’re treading on that ground right now,” Baldwin said – a suggestion for which Kirk said Baldwin owed him an apology.

“No, I do not,” Baldwin replied.

A number of opponents questioned the legality of the project, suggesting the city influenced the purchase of the land from Epcor;  that “the actual purchase was conditional on rezoning” of the site to comprehensive development.

“The whole scenario is just incredible, insane,” said Fiona MacDermid.

Said former White Rock resident Dennis Lypka: “This is a $14-million predicament that I would not want to find myself in.”

However, Addison Hubert – noting he worked with Elegant as well as developers of the nearby Royce project – disputed there was anything untoward about a property deal subject to conditions.

“We’ve spent four years of risk and $1 million,” Hubert said, referring to steps taken to meet conditions.

During a break, Hubert told PAN rezoning would have been necessary regardless of what was planned for the site, and that it was “extremely frustrating” to hear opponents suggest it was nefarious.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said.

At the start of the meeting, attendees heard that a majority of  submissions received by the city as of noon Tuesday noted opposition to the project. Those included a 1,899-signature petition urging council to “immediately reject” it.

Of 235 other submissions, 203 were from opponents, with 32 in support.

A council vote is expected Dec. 5.

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