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Building heights a sticking point in White Rock town centre revisions

Public hearing on amendment to zone reiterated opposition to towers

A majority of residents White Rock council heard from during calls to a virtual public hearing Monday – and in pre-hearing correspondence – were opposed to a currently-proposed revision of the city’s town centre zoning that could allow buildings as high as 29 storeys.

In most cases the opposition came because, while the proposed revision is designed to reduce maximum density and shrink overall building heights to below the currently allowable 25 to 26 storeys, the trade-off for this and other community benefits would be to still allow buildings of 18, 23 and 29 storeys in specific locations.

Out of 243 written submissions received prior to the hearing, 223 were opposed and 10 were in support, corporate administration director Tracey Arthur told council.

The vote on the revision amendment bylaw, no. 2376, is expected to take place at council’s next regular meeting, on April 26.

“The public has spoken quite a number of times, and the majority has said – quite a number of times – no more towers,” said Stephen Crozier, former federal NDP candidate for White Rock South Surrey, and past president of White Rock’s Democracy Direct party, which elected the majority of current council members in 2018.

He described the trade-off of towers for perceived benefits as “a failed paradigm” that has not worked for White Rock or other communities throughout the Lower Mainland.

“If the way up were the way out for problems that we face of housing, green space, infrastructure, (and) tax problems, I believe that we would have already solved them, but it doesn’t seem to have happened the last decade or so whenever these buildings keep going up.”

READ ALSO: White Rock introducing town centre height and density restrictions

As described in information circulated by the city, the intent of the proposed amendment – to the Town Centre Area Commercial/Residential Zone – is to encourage more affordable housing choices and employment uses, require more green spaces as part of development, reinforce a “lower-scale, pedestrian-focused experience on Johnston Road” and to require developers to provide adaptable, accessible-ready housing.

“In select locations – not through the entire area, but in the block surrounded by Foster (Street), Johnston (Road), Russell (Avenue) and North Bluff (Road), (there would be) 18 to 29 storeys,” planning and development services director Carl Isaak noted in his preamble to the hearing.

READ ALSO: White Rock defers discussion of non-town centre heights

The potential site of 29-storey buildings includes part of the Central Plaza property fronting on North Bluff Road, while a 23-storey building is being considered for a site on Russell Avenue at Johnston Road.

“They would only be permitted when there’s an on-site civic space such as a theatre, art gallery, city hall or other type of public space – otherwise it would be down to 10 storeys,” Isaak said.

Norm Stowe, representing Landmark Premier Properties, the owners of Central Plaza, who seek to redevelop part of the site, said the company has more than demonstrated its commitment to the city in developing the current Foster Martin development and also in supporting worthy community causes.

“We agree with city council in wanting development for the town centre that adds to public spaces and green spaces; developments that add a diverse range of housing types, particularly affordable and accessible housing, development that brings jobs to the White Rock community and developments that help generate and fund community amenities,” he said.

He also noted that development in the town centre over the past decade have provided combined community amenity contributions of “some $23 million.”

Several others spoke for retaining the existing zone and against introducing lower-end maximums of eight to 10 storeys overall, doubting the economic viability of lower heights in redeveloping the town centre.

But the potential for higher extremes in building heights seemed to be the sticking point for many others who spoke.

Patricia La Pena, president of the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce, said that while it could agree with many of the features of the proposed amendment, it asked that council review the concept of arbitrary building heights.

“We do not feel that the height of a building is what makes a development successful, or not, (or) good for the community, or not,” she said.

“Rather we ask council to look at each project independently, and see the merits it would bring in terms of a proactive solution of the city’s residential, business and community needs.”

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