Tracy Holmes photo An aerial view of White Rock’s town centre, to be the subject of a study on potential highrise development.

White Rock to study highrises

Council endorses a closer look at development on and along North Bluff

Things may be looking way up for the future of uptown White Rock – the city plans to study boosting height and density guidelines for some 36 properties on or adjacent to North Bluff Road.

A corporate report presented to council’s land use and planning committee by city planning and development services director Carl Johannsen Monday afternoon – and ultimately endorsed unanimously by both the committee and by council, in its regular meeting that evening – advocates looking at adjusting OCP height and density guidelines upward as part of a North Bluff Road study.

The study area – between Oxford Street on the west and Finlay Street on the east, and also including the ‘Peace Arch Hospital Campus’ block and a town centre ‘core block’ bounded by North Bluff, Johnston Road, Russell Avenue and Foster Street – could be the site of highrises upwards of 25 stories, Johannsen’s report suggests, with designs reaching as high as the 35- to 40-storey range if structural engineering realities dictate that more slender buildings are more cost effective for developers.

Johannsen says, however, that that may set the upper limit for the city.

“Highrises nearing, or above 40 storeys are better-suited for other areas within the region, where there are different market characteristics, no height guidelines to adhere to and rapid transit service (Skytrain),” he says in the report.

Staff are also suggesting that there would have to be trade-offs for additional height and density for projects in the study area.

“(They) will only be considered if applicants provide constructed, ‘tangible’ public amenities as part of their redevelopment project, and in addition to providing applicable community amenity contributions (CACs) and fulfilling applicable site servicing requirements,” Johannsen says in the report.

Principal opposition to the plan during the committee meeting came from Coun. David Chesney, who argued that 11 uptown highrise projects currently in progress – with a further proposal in the offing for Royal Place, and increasing pressure to redevelop older apartment buildings – are already accelerating development of the city beyond public tolerance.

“If this was a 10-year plan, I’d understand,” he said. “(But) things are coming forward – it’s not five years, it’s not 10 years, it’s now.

“I think we’re out of control to be even considering more density along North Bluff,” he added. “This thing should be put on the shelf, at least until the next election…the feedback I’m hearing from the community is that they’ve had it to here with 11 highrises.”

But Mayor Wayne Baldwin minimized the potential impact of the study, saying that looking at the potential of development in the area would be useful, including identifying ways to increase rental stock in the city.

“The probability of all this happening is very low,” he said. “I don’t think there is a need for panic at this time… some people might say this is happening in the next five years, and create an aura of fear. This is not imminent.”

Coun. Lynne Sinclair said she felt that Chesney’s comments were a “compelling” argument for having the study, adding that a number of current highrise projects came forward during the time the OCP was under review.

“We could have said we’re not going to accept any applications for four years, but we didn’t do that,” she said. “This would allow us the benefit of forethought… it behooves us to study the area with some particularity.”

“It’s not a done deal – it’s a suite of ideas,” Johannsen said, responding to questioning. “It’s up to the community and council to see what they want to do about it.”

In his report, Johannsen noted that the potential public amenities could include secured rental or other affordable housing; signficant office, hotel/event floorspace; a civic centre, an art gallery or other cultural facilities or spaces; public art; a new ‘central park,” or plaza development and ‘public realm enhancement’ “beyond what would be normally associated with a typical redevelopment application.”

In his rationale for the study, Johannsen notes that the study area is already bounded by an existing highrise, the Belaire (at 14824 North Bluff Rd.) and a zoned 13-storey building at 1556 Finlay St.

He also notes that it is the topographical high point in White Rock, “conducive” to creating the tallest buildings in the city providing long-range views of Semiahmoo Bay and in other directions, while minimizing view impacts for other White Rock residents.

“Shadowing and view blockage impacts on White Rock properties would be minimal, and would only impact commercial properties across North Bluff Road,” he states, while adding public comment at OCP consultation and other public hearings has identified the study area as “suitable for the tallest buildings in White Rock.”

Johannsen proposes, provisionally, increasing the height guideline to 30 storeys at the OCP “high point” of the intersection of North Bluff Road and Johnston Road, that an ‘intermediate’ height guideline of 20 storeys be established outside of this, transitioning down to a 15-storey guideline at Oxford Street and Finlay Street, at either end of the study area.

The suggestion also includes a step-down of heights moving down the hill southward, in keeping with OCP policy.

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