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White Rock tower project passes third reading

Mayor Wayne Baldwin calls for assurances a daycare component will be provided before final adoption.
An artist’s rendering of the Oviedo Homes proposal for Finlay Street. (File image)

The Oviedo Homes proposal for a mixed-use residential and commercial development on Finlay Street narrowly passed third reading at White Rock council Monday night following a lengthy public hearing that ran more than an hour overtime.

The development was supported by Couns. Lynne Sinclair, Bill Lawrence, Megan Knight and Grant Meyer, with Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Couns. Helen Fathers and David Chesney opposed.

The sprawling multi-level building, planned to cover five lots on Finlay Street and two lots on Russell Avenue, across the street from Peace Arch Hospital, would be 13 storeys at its highest point, just south of the B.C. Hydro substation on North Bluff Road, tapering down to seven storeys at Russell Avenue.

Speaker after speaker on the public hearing list (the crowd at some points overflowed council chambers) extolled virtues of the building, which would provide 126 residential units plus two storeys of commercial space geared to health-related uses, such as doctors’ offices and dental clinics.

Council heard repeatedly that the development, which is not compliant with the newly-revised OCP, would help create a ‘hospital district’ attracting more doctors and specialists to the city, add affordable-housing options (16 units have been earmarked for market-value rentals in perpetuity), provide potential housing for hospital staff and also add a daycare.

But Baldwin, speaking before the vote on third reading, expressed wariness about developers’ promises and pushed for more written commitments to providing a daycare facility, with possible financial penalties, to be added to the bylaw.

Planning and development services director Carl Johannsen assured council that such provisions could be in place before final adoption of the bylaw when council resumes meetings in September.

While Baldwin said that “there’s an awful lot to like” about the design of the building – which he also described as “a massive piece of work”, he noted that, at its highest, it’s twice as high as what the new OCP calls for in the area.

“Our OCP (will have) just been shattered all to pieces by going twice as high and twice as dense…you can’t go changing the OCP like that before the ink is even dry.”

Baldwin also said “having spent a little bit of time in hospital recently,” he had heard from staff that they had no desire to live across the street from the workplace.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a bunch of doctors and nurses moving in,” he said, adding that he also doubted that many of those occupying condos would be families with children.

“You won’t see a lot of use by residents for the daycare, but you will see a lot of use by hospital staff,” he predicted.

Baldwin said it was important the bylaw contained stronger assurances that a daycare would materialize, given the city’s past track record with other condo developments.

“Council can be seduced by things like daycares – then see them yanked out (of developments) because they’re not economically viable,” he said.

Those speaking in opposition to the project had also noted that, while council had earlier sent the proposal back to the drawing board for the proponent and city staff to work out affordable-housing options, it had returned with only rentals at market rates.

“Market rents for a 560-square-foot unit are now approaching $2,000 a month,” opponent Pat Petrala noted during the hearing. “Frankly, that’s not affordable on a nurses’, LPN’s or clerk-administrators’ salary.”

But Sinclair, speaking in support of the project before the vote, said that even providing rental housing in a community with virtually no available stock made a difference.

“Market rental is on the spectrum of afforable housing,” she said. “This is giving us something in perpetuity.”

About the Author: Alex Browne

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