Tracy Holmes photo                                Solterra VP Mike Bosa addresses council.

Tracy Holmes photo Solterra VP Mike Bosa addresses council.

White Rock highrise public hearings draw 200

Opposition and support recorded at marathon meeting

Around 200 people packed the White Rock Community Centre Tuesday evening for a chance to voice their thoughts on two controversial highrise projects proposed for the 1300-block of Johnston Road.

The marathon event – it started at 5 p.m. and concluded six hours later – dealt with the two projects separately, beginning with the 14-storey, mixed-used development proposed for 1350 Johnston Rd. (current site of Deals World) by Solterra.

More than 50 people stood to address council in the first 3½ hours of that hearing; in all, 63 speakers came forward.

The first seven were clearly in favour, describing the need for additional density, housing and economic stimulation.

The majority, however, expressed opposition, pointing out it does not comply with guidelines for lower Johnston Road that are in the city’s revised official community plan (OCP) – which calls for a 10- to 12-storey height range for lower Johnston – and concerned it will set an unwanted precedent for future development.

A number of speakers expressed concern for Blue Frog Studio, a concert venue that opened in 2010 at 1328 Johnston Rd.

Blue Frog is located immediately south of Solterra’s proposed tower, and north of the project that was the subject of the evening’s second public hearing: a 12-storey mixed-use development eyed for 1310 Johnston Rd. (current site of Leela Thai restaurant and several other businesses).

Blue Frog owner Kelly Breaks told council the city has “hung us out to dry.” He said he’s been advised his property will be devalued if the highrises are approved, and that it would “not be prudent for us to continue on in business.”

Breaks requested “some very fair and reasonable remedies,” including the removal of a 30-metre setback between the towers, and some easement to accommodate future expansion of Blue Frog.

“This is our life but we feel betrayed.”

Retired TV weatherman and Peninsula resident Wayne Cox was among others who spoke of the impact to Blue Frog – a business that he told council draws 30,000 people to its events every year, with 60 per cent of those from outside of White Rock.

“So to be blunt Mr. Mayor and council, to allow these… to go ahead without adjustments could be the end of Blue Frog.”

Solterra vice-president Mike Bosa told council there was no intention to isolate Blue Frog, and that correspondence with the owners has been ongoing since May 2016. Steps taken have included exploring if the Blue Frog site could be redeveloped; and asking for easements to avoid the use of pilings for the highrise, and thereby reduce shaking during construction.

Solterra also offered to purchase the business at market value of development potential, Bosa said, acknowledging the offer was “lower than (Breaks) expected.”

“We are not ignoring the Blue Frog. We have not neglected them, and that appears to be the message that’s being sent and that’s not fair.”

Another speaker said merchants in the area are “petrified” at the prospect of losing their business. More favourable comments included that the Solterra project will “help to revitalize Johnston Road.”

No decision was made Tuesday.