White Rock Coun. Fathers wants level playing field

Some elected officials get early look at preliminary sketches of White Rock development.

A vacant lot in the 1500-block of Martin Street in White Rock's town centre was recently purchased by developers.

A White Rock councillor is expressing concern that preliminary sketches for a development at a recently sold uptown property are being shared with some members of council and not others.

At last week’s council meeting, Coun. Helen Fathers directed a request to city manager Dan Bottrill following a meeting she had the week before with Patrik Kutak of Landmark Premier Properties.

“We don’t’ have a lobby registration policy, but I would like it conveyed to developers that when they meet with members of council, it’s imperative that every single member of council gets the same information,” Fathers said Nov. 9.

“There’s nothing wrong with members of council meeting, however we should all be apprised of the same information at the same time.”

Fathers explained to Peace Arch News that her comment was in reference to a meeting she and Coun. David Chesney had with Kutak Nov. 4, when the developer discussed preliminary ideas for the 2.5-acre lot in the 1500-block of Martin Street but told the pair there were no plans to be shown at that time.

Later that week, Fathers said she was driving uptown and saw Couns. Lynne Sinclair, Megan Knight and Grant Meyer meeting with Kutak and two other men at Brown’s Social House, and that there were “plans all over the table.”

Fathers said this week that she has since emailed Kutak twice requesting that the plans be dropped off at city hall for her.

“I expressed in my council report that it’s an unfair playing field if some members of council get information and others don’t,” Fathers said.

Kutak confirmed to PAN via email that Landmark shared some early stage designs with some members of council and staff, noting they were “in no way representational of any specific plan as of yet.”

“In the course of conducting the initial meetings with individual council members, some may or may not have seen some of the early concept sketches,” Kutak said. “However, there would have been no advantage to seeing those, as they are not representative of anything specific.”

Meyer described the plans as “conceptual sketches” that were “hard to describe,” but told PAN that the designs were unique and different than what he’d seen in the city.

He said it’s not out of the ordinary for developers to reach out to councillors ahead of submitting applications to the city, describing the move as “kind of a courtesy to give you a heads up” about what might be coming forward.

When asked if meeting privately with developers was contradictory to what he’d previously told PAN – that council had received advice from the city’s lawyer and senior staff to not attend developer-hosted public meetings – Meyer said it was “definitely borderline.”

“It’s funny that we were told not to go to the public-information meetings,” Meyer said, noting that he had always attended in his first two terms, but stopped upon receiving the advice at the start of this term.

“When anything comes to council, whether it’s a development or a public art project or a recreation facility, you’re lobbied by both sides of any equation… from the moment people hear about it.

“When it came to us and we were told not to (attend), I kind of thought well that’s odd, but I’ve stuck with the staff advice on that. Not saying I agree with it, but if staff is saying that, then I probably should not.”

Sinclair, however, told PAN she agrees with the advice, noting a distinction between private developer meetings that take place early in the process, and public meetings when plans are more formalized.

“By that point, you’ve already got an application in, and we really have to be careful that we don’t fetter our discretion in any way,” Sinclair said.

At the Oct. 26 council meeting, Sinclair expressed concern about the development-application process, specifically that council didn’t have a chance to see development plans prior to them coming to the land use and planning committee. She echoed the concerns this week, saying council should be able to weigh-in on plans earlier, and noting that the advisory design panel – an earlier step in the process –  only looks at form and character, not height and density.

“If the height and density isn’t going to fly with council, then the whole project isn’t going to fly,” she said, noting a lot of time and money can be spent on a proposal before it comes to council.

“I think the elected people need to indicate what they’re thinking to help guide the process. You have to keep an open mind, but you can certainly give an indication of what we’re thinking.”

With regards to the Martin Street property, Sinclair said the concepts she saw “looked really interesting,” and she is looking forward to seeing what the developer puts together.

“I hope that we get something really outstanding for that lot, because it’s a huge chunk of land in our town centre,” Sinclair said.

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