WHITE ROCK – If there was one takeaway issue from Thursday night’s White Rock all-candidates meeting, and one that’s been most constant in the lead up to the Nov. 15 election, it’s development.
The issue seemed top of mind for the 250 potential voters gathered to hear candidates speak, as many applauded comments relating specifically to the issue during the two-hour event. All 17 councillor and both mayoral candidates were present.
While questions specifically targeted topics like the Official Community Plan (OCP), taxation and infrastructure upkeep, talking points inevitably seemed to all boil down to development.
For independent David Chesney, runnerup in the last two elections, development has not helped the city’s businesses, pointing out an increase in "for lease" signs in the city’s commercial areas.
"Where we’re sitting (White Rock Community Centre) is where the densification happens," he said, pointing out the controversial Bosa Towers highrise development. "Be very careful about the things said here tonight, we need to keep the development to the town centre, very plain and simple."
Doug Hart, of the White Rock Coalition said the OCP was "the benchmark for development" and he wanted to see the residents help update that in the coming year. Hart also floated the idea of introducing tax incentives for developers to encourage "smart development" in the city.
Longtime community activist Pat Petrala said city hall has not been listening to residents as evidenced by developments approved in the past few years, and questioned the point of council’s community consultation.
"Community input has been shelved, we’ve watched highrises come in, mega homes and we didn’t want them," she said.
Former councillor Margaret Woods agreed with Petrala’s assessment.
"I want to point out the Bosa deal was voted in very quickly," said Woods, adding 3,500 residents didn’t want it but five councillors voted it through. "What I heard is we’re
going to have meetings… we already have a process and it’s called public hearings but the public say, ‘We don’t want it and it goes through.’" Incumbent Coun. Helen Fathers said it takes four votes on council to make something happen and noted that unlike others running for re-election, she does not accept donations from developers.
"The majority on council are development-friendly," she said.
White Rock BIA president Lynne Sinclair said she opposed the Bosa development but didn’t want to keep White Rock looking back into the past.
Incumbent mayor Wayne Baldwin said he wanted to refine the area of the city along 16th Avenue around North Bluff. For taxation, he said contrary to the perception, development in White Rock has actually been slow going, therefore eliminating the chances of changing the tax schemes.
"Business taxes and residential taxes are set on a ratio, "he explained. "Our growth is so small, you can only take DCCs (development cost charges) for growth so there’s almost no money we can collect."
Mayoral challenger David Bradshaw also challenged Baldwin on the current council’s handling of the OCP.
"The problem isn’t theory with OCP, the problem is you have to follow the damn thing," he said.
"This ‘comprehensive development’ thing is a beauty, there are no guidelines for comprehensive development zones. I’m running for mayor to clean everything up, tell me what you want done, I’ll make sure it’s followed."
To see what all candidates had to say at the event, visit the Now’s Twitter feed for live tweeting at Twitter.com/thenownewspaper.