White Rock council has done an about-face on its April 12 decision to remove Elm Street – home to some of the last early-20th century homes in the city – from the Waterfront Village land use designation in the Official Community Plan.
The contentious change in direction came at Monday’s (May 31) Land Use and Planning Committee meeting, chaired by Coun. Christopher Trevelyan, in which council took note of letters from owners of the three most historic houses.
All three said that while they had every intention of maintaining the historic character of their houses – aside from some interior renovations – they were not prepared to take the hit at their property values they say would be the result of council’s earlier decision to re-designate the street as Mature Neighbourhood.
A motion to amend the height and density review bylaw, from Coun. Anthony Manning, followed an alternative suggestion of staff that the buildings remain in the Waterfront Village designation, but with a three-storey limit on height and density limits more suited to residential than commercial development.
As finally adopted by council, on a 4-3 split vote (with Couns. David Chesney, Erika Johanson and Helen Fathers voting against it), the amendment states that consideration be given to development of Elm Street, but also that consideration be given to the character of existing houses.
“Can we specify that any future development in that area, in addition to remaining at three storeys, must conform to a similar character as the homes that are there now?” Manning asked planning and development director Carl Isaak.
Manning noted that a strata development on the west side of the street, from the 1990s, had been designed with a similar “cottage” look to the older houses.
Isaak said that, as the existing houses are currently designated duplex, any multi-family development would require a rezoning, which would mean the city could stipulate form and character “in the context of the neighbourhood.”
“I don’t think we’d like to see a new build coming along on Elm Street that is simply a big box,” Manning said.
He said he had proposed the motion because “we need to give the neighbourhood some certainty, but we also need to give the property owners some certainty, too.”
In a letter to council and the planning department Tara Leigh, owner, with her husband Lane Laycock, of one of the historic homes – 1148 Elm St. – said “we take pride in owning and care-taking part of White Rock’s history.”
And, she added, “like our neighbours of the other two homes built in 1911 beside ours, we do not want the houses to be replaced in the near future.
“At the same time, we have invested everything we financially have into this home. We want to live here and see our investment grow. We do not wish to see our property values take a hit merely because some individuals do not want to see any changes to the neighbourhood.”
Johanson, who made the original motion to switch the Elm Street homes from the Waterfront Village designation to Mature Neighbourhood, was adamant that council should be doing more to retain the heritage aspect of the street, pointing out that there is no heritage designation for homes in White Rock.
“I’m quite surprised,” she said following Manning’s motion.
“I thought the whole point of removing it from Waterfront Village was to maintain exactly those properties as is – certainly not to turn it into multi-family.
“That’s what the neighbourhood wants, they want to keep those cottages there,” she said.
She added that owners of older cottages nearby on Beachview Avenue have also indicated they don’t intend to sell their properties, and noted that the owners of the three homes on Elm Street stated in their letters that they have made significant investment into retaining the character of their homes for the future.
“Again, it’s about density as (much) as anything else,” Johanson said.
“But to me, this is heritage, it’s the last three that we’ve got and I certainly won’t be supporting it.”
Mayor Darryl Walker said the decision to re-designate Elm Street “may have been been made in a little bit of a hurry.”
“Those three heritage buildings, if indeed they are heritage buildings – they should remain and there should be no change in that.”
Walker said, however, that some buildings on Elm will likely need to be replaced sooner or later, although “nothing will happen without consultation with neighbours.”
“(This) does give a bit of flexibility to getting something new in there.”
Supporting Johanson’s stance were Coun. David Chesney – who said he was also concerned that introducing larger-scale multi-family development to Elm would be “folly” due to an increase of traffic – and Coun. Scott Kristjanson (who ultimately voted, however, in favour of Manning’s motion).
“The OCP is about setting expectations for our neighbourhoods,” Kristjanson said, adding that while he is not in favour of “spot-zoning” it could be a possibility for some future development proposal.
“This is about vision and protecting people’s views, and I think we need to do that – that’s what we were elected to do,” he said.
But Trevelyan said he had concerns about being fair to the owners of the three small properties and the larger 1930s apartment four-plex at 1164 Elm St., which has already been the subject of one redevelopment proposal.
“It’s hard to reduce someone’s property value to make someone else’s view last,” he said. “That’s a bit of a challenge, and that’s exactly what we’re proposing here.
“I’m not in favour of a huge, dense building,” he added, noting that development could be limited to a row of townhouses similar to those on the west side.
“In terms of saving those homes, it’s easy for me to say when it’s not my money. Property’s very expensive in White Rock, and unless we want to step up (with) the $5 million to make those heritage homes, I can’t impose on some else that they have to keep a nice old, rustic home when I’ve no financial stake in the game.”