White Rock council approves downzoning, height limits

Six-storey cap placed on lower Johnston Road development

White Rock council decided to approve contentious OCP and zoning amendments for the 1300-block of Johnston Road during a special meeting Wednesday night.

Council voted 5-2 to approve a down-zoning of 1310 Johnston Rd. (site of the proposed Lady Alexandra building) that would lower allowable height to six storeys from the current 12 storeys, and also modify allowable density.

Supporting the down-zoning were Mayor Darryl Walker and Couns. Scott Kristjanson, Christopher Trevelyan, Erika Johanson and David Chesney.

Voting against the amendment were Couns. Helen Fathers and Anthony Manning.

Council also unanimously approved a change to the Official Community Plan’s height-transition guidelines for the block – lowering maximum allowable height to four to six storeys from 10-12 storeys.

Two lengthy public hearings Monday night – both of them concerning the future of the block – had led council to call a special public meeting Wednesday at 5 p.m. in council chambers, to clear up unfinished business from Monday’s regular council agenda.

Included in that was consideration of third and final readings for the controversial amendments.

At Monday’s public hearings, proponents for the development had argued that a six-storey limit would make the planned building – granted a development permit last year, but stalled by the newly-elected council at the building permit stage – impossible and lead to a costly legal challenge. Opponents, however, urged council to stick to campaign promises to limit highrise development in the city.

READ ALSO: Council challenged by Lady Alexandra conundrum

READ ALSO: Consultant warns of devastating consequences of White Rock down-zoning

Questioned by council members on Monday night, planning and development services director Carl Johannsen confirmed that new plans for the Lady Alexandra building discussed by proponents were not part of the amendment decision.

For a new plan for the building to be considered, he said, current zoning would have to remain and a new development permit application would have to be made.

The special regular council meeting bracketed a 6 p.m. finance and audit committee meeting, called to consider and take questions and comments from the public on the city’s financial plan.

Both Fathers and Manning argued that, although they did not support the Lady Alexandra project, the city should honour the development permit approved by the previous council.

Manning said “if we were talking about a development permit tonight I would be voting against it,” but added he was concerned about potential costs of a legal challenge to the city and that the site would sit vacant, when it could be providing CAC’s to help fund affordable housing and cold-weather shelters.

Fathers noted the previous granting of a building permit for a highrise development at 1350 Johnston Rd. means the block’s character has already changed.

“That ship has sailed,” she said.

But other councillors said that while the decision is difficult, the opposition of a majority of voters to highrises below Thrift Avenue has been made clear.

“I don’t agree with the argument that the damage has already been done,” Coun. Erika Johansen said. “All in all, I feel very strongly that there should be no more highrises below Thrift.”

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