The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the City of White Rock was justified in putting the the Lady Alexandra project for lower Johnston Road on hold.
In a decision handed down on March 31, Supreme Court Justice Carla Forth ruled in favour of city council’s decision, made in November, 2018, to halt the 12-storey highrise previously approved for 1310 Johnston Rd., pending an OCP review.
Also upheld was council’s subsequent down-zoning of the property to six storeys.
But Mayor Darryl Walker told Peace Arch News following the decision that he is hopeful the city can sit down with the property owners – a group of mostly local investors – and iron out a redevelopment plan for the site that, within current height limits, will work for all parties.
“We don’t want to lord it over people and say, ‘We told you so’,” he said.
“These are respected people in the community – they’re not strangers. We need to be slow and patient and find out how do we make this work for everybody.”
He said, however, that the decision – while still under review by council and staff – “does what we hoped it would do” in upholding the city’s conduct and control of its zoning and OCP review processes.
“I think this is a decision that a lot of cities and municipalities will be studying,” he said.
The mixed-use luxury residential and retail building planned by property developer G.S.R. Holdings for the former site of Leela Thai Restaurant, and other businesses, was approved for a development permit at a height of 12 storeys by the previous council in 2018.
Before and after approval the contentious project had been the subject of outcry from residents opposing highrise development in the lower town centre area.
While it had received a development permit, the project, still undergoing design revisions, had not yet received a building permit.
This allowed the newly-elected council to include the project in its OCP review, instituted only two days after it took office.
The court petition – filed by G.S.R. Capital Group Inc. in April of last year – also took aim at council’s subsequent decision, made at a special meeting that March, to approve OCP and zoning amendments for the site, at the corner of Johnston Road and Roper Avenue.
Council voted 5-2 to approve bylaw 2290, which resulted in down-zoning of the property to a height of six storeys from the originally planned 12 storeys, and also to modify allowable density.
Among other items, the petition filed by G.S.R. alleged the city breached an obligation of procedural fairness.
In its response to the petition, the city cited section 463 of the Local Government Act, which allows a municipal government to withhold a building permit for 30 days if it passes a resolution identifying a conflict between a development proposed in the application for a building permit and an official community plan that is “under preparation.”
Forth found that G.S.R had been given sufficient notice of council’s intention to review the zoning and had been provided a legally-stipulated seven-day window in which to apply for a building permit.
Forth also found that it was not the city’s “sole purpose” to repudiate the contract or agreement between it and G.S.R. (another development, at the former Deal’s World site at 1350 Johnston Rd. – which filed a building permit within the seven-day window – was allowed to proceed).
“Although the effect of the City’s amendments was to single out the petitioner’s property, the city was acting in accordance with the policies that were identified as being important to its constituents in the 2018 elections —in particular, concern over rapid development in the area in which the property was located,” Forth wrote.
“It is clear from the meeting minutes that while the councillors were alive to the position this put the petitioner in, they felt it was their duty to act according to what they viewed to be in the City’s long-term interest, and that (Section) 463 provided authority for them to achieve this goal.
“I find that they were acting in good faith in so doing.”