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Town centre zoning in White Rock could cap building heights at 12 storeys

‘The public has spoken so clearly’ against 18- to 29-storey structures, says councillor
A revision to the town centre CR-1 zoning bylaw in White Rock, if formally adopted by council on May 10, could spell the end of towers above 12 storeys in the area. (File photo)

White Rock council has moved another step closer to capping building heights in the town centre at a 12-storey maximum.

At its regular meeting on April 26, council gave third reading to a bylaw revising the city’s CR-1 town centre zoning.

As originally proposed, the revision would have allowed future 29-storey and 18-storey towers in the Central Plaza area, plus a 23-storey building proposed for the northwest corner of Johnston Road and Russell Avenue (which could include a new city hall facility).

Instead – as amended before third reading by mover Coun. Scott Kristjanson and seconder Coun. Erika Johanson – the bylaw would limit all development in the area to eight- to 12-storeys, to a maximum height of 40 metres (down from the current peak height of 90 m).

The current CR-1 zoning for the area would allow buildings of 25 to 26 storeys.

Both the amendments and third reading passed unanimously. Final adoption of the amended revision bylaw is scheduled for council’s May 10 meeting.

READ ALSO: White Rock introducing town centre height and density restrictions

Aside from the building heights, Kristjanson and Johanson said they generally supported the intent of the revision – which in addition to lowering heights overall would also encourage more affordable housing choices and employment uses, more green spaces as part of town centre development, reinforcing a lower-scale, pedestrian-focused experience on Johnston Road, and requiring developers to provide adaptable, accessible-ready housing.

READ ALSO: Building heights a sticking point in White Rock town centre revisions

But a majority of residents speaking or making written submissions to an April 19 virtual public hearing on the bylaw told council that including the 29-, 23- and 18-storey buildings as a trade-off for generally lower heights was too high a price to pay.

Coun. Anthony Manning said that plans revealed for three towers on Martin Drive in the Semiahmoo Town Centre area indicate the “tallest buildings are not going to be in White Rock, they’re going to be right across North Bluff at Semiahmoo.

“We need to be aware of that, because that density is going to come over onto our side of the street and we’re going to get a lot more use of our infrastructure without any benefit of DCCs. I’d like to see our heights lowered.”

Coun. Christopher Trevelyan said that, while he doesn’t, personally, mind the idea of higher buildings in the Central Plaza area, “given what’s happening in the Semiahmoo Town Centre area and given what’s happened in our city,” he felt he must defer to public opinion.

“The public has spoken so clearly – at my count in the public hearing… it wasn’t even close – for that reason alone I’m going to go with ‘the public has spoken.’”

In response to a question from Johanson, planning and development services director Carl Isaak noted that Community Amenity Contributions are tied to buildings exceeding a specific density ratio – not necessarily building heights.

“There would be potentially less if you lowered the heights, but there would still be some element of CACs that would be expected for anything above a three- or four-storey building.”

“We’ve head from our residents that they would like less height even if that means less CACs,” Kristjanson said. “We haven’t even figured out how to spend the ones we do have.”

He also said that, while he wouldn’t support it himself, the bylaw would still leave an option for council to consider bigger buildings in future, “if we had a compelling case for something higher.”

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