File photo The Lady Alexandra project at 1310 Johnston Rd., pictured in a rendering prepared during planning, is the main property to be affected by zoning amendments for Lower Johnston Road planned by White Rock council.

White Rock council challenged by Lady Alexandra conundrum

Feedback on reviewed project from highrise site owner and residents reveals division

A special meeting of White Rock council Monday night showed a sharp divide between investors in the proposed Lady Alexandra project for Lower Johnston Road, and residents adamant they want height and density restrictions in the area – and throughout the city.

The meeting was called to hear input from property owners affected by council resolutions passed in November to amend zoning and the Official Community Plan to reduce the maximum height for the property to six storeys with a lowered density of development.

Under existing zoning, the Lady Alexandra mixed-use luxury residential and retail building planned for 1310 Johnston Rd. (current site of the Leela Thai Restaurant and other businesses) was approved for a development permit at a height of 12 storeys, but the project does not yet have a building permit, which has allowed council’s current reexamination of the project.

Investors in the Lady Alexandra project argued that the yet-to-be-approved amendments would create a financial hardship for them and essentially “kill” the project; Couns. Scott Kristjanson and Anthony Manning noted their election mandate from citizens to reduce building heights and consider affordable housing. They asked whether proposed amendments would make redevelopment impractical, while some residents urged council to stick to its guns in reducing building heights.

“This could be one of the toughest (issues) we have to deal with,” Mayor Darryl Walker acknowledged following the meeting (a formal public hearing is planned for next month before the amendments are put to a final vote).

“But this is what we were elected to do…we’re going to try to find that middle ground,” he added.

Paul Randhawa, who told council he represents a small group of investors who acquired the property and project from the original owner, Peter Cross, more than two years ago, said they had worked “in good faith” with the city, consistent with the “long-term vision” of the current OCP.

He said the 30-unit building has been designed to be slender “with the majority of floors having only two units per floor,” to respect neighbours and the view corridor to Semiahmoo Bay. A 90-unit building just to the north (the Deals World site at 1350 Johnston Rd.) is still going ahead, he noted.

“If council downsizes the project it means very significant losses for me, my family and friends,” he said. “If council takes the development down to six storeys and a 3.5 FAR (floor area density), the project, as currently conceived, is dead and the site will not be developed for an undetermined period of time.

“My investment partners are simple, hard-working people,” he said. “We understood that there were development risks… absolutely none of us ever thought that a new council might, in such a heavy-handed and punitive way, destroy the development and their investment.”

But resident and former city councillor Ken Jones said the city cannot ultimately afford to compensate investors for losses.

“People who speculate on land and try to get more than what the public wants are just gambling. They need to be considered for the fact that they’re making a contribution, but there should be no consideration for any losses that they have incurred in taking that gamble, any more than anybody having a racehorse takes a gamble.”

He also said that new developments already underway in White Rock are proving unaffordable for retail tenants.

“We’re driving business out of the city,” he said.

Blue Frog Studios owner Kelly Breaks and other residents noted the amount of public opposition expressed at public hearings on both highrise developments for Lower Johnston Road prior to their approval by the previous council.

“I was appalled, quite frankly, at how the wishes and desires of the residents were ignored and swept aside,” said Luva Lynne Atitlan.

“Why I believe we all voted for you is because we wanted a council that would listen to us and make decisions based not on how much money developers are going to make, or how much money they promise to give for things like parkades or concrete water parks by the ocean, but on how it’s going to affect our community and the people who live here.”

Former BCIT instructor Dave Stonoga said he is alarmed at the creep of development down Johnston Road from the town centre, with each new project establishing a precedent for new proposals, while projects present nothing to attract visitors or offer progressive architecture or energy-efficient technology.

“I don’t see anything new or exciting in these places. You could go to downtown Coquitlam and see the same thing…It’s too bad it got this far, I can feel for the owners, too.”

Coun. Helen Fathers asked former owner Cross, who had continued as a consultant with the project, whether there was any flexibility in the development plans.

“There’s flexibility in anything,” Cross said, but added that a lower height might mean the difference between a long-lasting concrete structure and a less-durable, wood-framed building.

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