White Rock council has approved one of two contentious development proposals for the Everall neighbourhood, but given a thumbs-down to the other.
At a special meeting of council Monday evening, Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Couns. Lynne Sinclair, Grant Meyer, Bill Lawrence and Megan Knight voted in favour of bylaws permitting the Elegant highrise residential project on Oxford Street to proceed.
Both Coun. Helen Fathers and Coun. David Chesney voted against the bylaws for the project, which, as part of a phased development agreement, will ultimately include two towers, one 24 storeys and the other 21 storeys, at 1454 Oxford St.
When Fathers and Chesney sought acknowledgment for the record that they had voted against an Elegant project bylaw, Baldwin responded: “Couns. Fathers and Chesney opposed, which is too bad because this is to the benefit of the public.”
Later, when Lawrence made a motion to consider similar bylaws for the 12-storey tower proposal put forward by Forge Developments for 14825/35 Thrift Ave., there was no seconder.
“Without the motion, the other bylaws can’t happen, so that won’t happen,” Baldwin said, adding that had the project been discussed, he would have opposed it because of a 66-unit-per-acre density that he said was “pushing the envelope” for the area.
The special 5 p.m. meeting also included votes on bylaws concerning the city’s financial plan, water-system infrastructure financing and the setting of building and business fees.
It was attended by about 50 people, many who vocally opposed the two highrise projects – both of which required OCP amendments as they were outside the town-centre area.
Audience members became loud during discussion of the Elegant project, to be built on land originally purchased for $14.5 million from Epcor, former owner of the city’s water utility.
Opponents have charged that this purchase was contingent on an agreement for the city to provide rezoning for the development, and have also questioned whether consideration of the proposal could be influenced by Elegant’s contributions to political campaigns of council members who voted in favour of the development.
However, Baldwin and Sinclair both said they were influenced to vote positively for the high, narrow profile of the Elegant towers by the city’s goal to protect trees on the hillside.
“The opportunity to save trees trumps concerns about height,” Baldwin said.
The mayor also noted the project density (45 units per acre) is in line with existing area development – The Royce (at 44) and significantly less than The Beverley (at 72), while the multi-family land use is in keeping with city objectives.
Sinclair said that after earlier community discussions about the neighbourhood, it was evident the only consensus was a public desire to save trees.
“The OCP amendment was made at that time that each lot (in the area) should be developed on a site-specific basis,” she said, adding that Elegant fits the OCP aim of encouraging “pedestrian-friendly green corridors.”
“We’re getting an acre of parkland for going up,” noted Knight, who added the project would provide “significant tax revenue” and “boost the local businesses by bringing customers.”
Meyer spoke only to concur with what other councillors had said about “a great project,” while Lawrence later told Peace Arch News the “small footprint” and “a nice green space” was one of the “main issues coming into play.”
Fathers said she had reviewed all comments at Elegant’s two public hearings.
“I can’t get past the fact that so many members of the community feel it isn’t the right project for the area,” she said, noting there is no affordable-housing component.
Sinclair responded that councillors who wanted to push affordable housing had been free to make motions during the approval process.
When Fathers raised concerns about campaign financing, Baldwin attempted to rule her out-of-order, stating discussion should focus solely on land use and density – which drew heckling from the crowd, including calls for “freedom of speech.”
Fathers continued, saying, “as a member of council, I have never taken campaign funds (from a developer)… if I had taken money I would feel obligation.”
Following the meeting, Fathers said she did not seek to censure others by her comments.
“Everyone on council has a right to vote whatever way they want,” she said.
The theme was continued by Chesney, who said, “I financed all four of my election campaigns. My campaigns cost me $5,000 to $6,000, which is not what many members of council have been spending… I do not judge them.”
He said he did not “buy into the argument that (tower opposition) is NIMBYism,” and would likely have voted for the development if it had been in the town centre.