White Rock council has voted to narrow the focus of the current Official Community Plan review, returning to a concentration on building heights and density in the city.
Primary areas given attention will be the Town Centre – which in the past year has seen a spate of highrise building on projects approved by the previous council – plus surrounding transitional zones of lower-level development, and the Marine Drive waterfront.
Council unanimously endorsed the motion from Coun. Erika Johanson at its regular meeting – held online – on Nov. 23.
Johanson’s motion came amid discussion of the much broader issue of realigning council’s strategic priorities.
Chief Administrative Officer Guillermo Ferrero, in an update report, outlined many ways in which this is being done, at council’s direction, in response to significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both Ferrero and Carl Isaak, White Rock’s planning and development services director, commented that limiting the OCP review focus, as Johanson suggested, would likely mean an earlier completion of the entire review (originally projected for the end of 2021, although completion of some aspects is already expected before then) although Ferrero said a further report would be necessary to arrive at a specific time frame.
Isaak said reducing the scope might also result in moving up other items on staff’s priority list, such as zoning bylaw review for single family or coach homes and the city’s housing needs report.
In making the motion, Johanson said the purpose was to reaffirm the campaign platform that she and other successful Democracy Direct White Rock council candidates (Mayor Darryl Walker, Coun. Scott Kristjanson, Coun. Anthony Manning and Coun. Christopher Trevelyan) had run on in the municipal election of 2018.
“It included density and lowering heights as one of the objectives,” she said.
“We felt that the OCP review was necessary to confirm our suspicions that most people don’t want the highrises, and I think the review is showing that that, in fact, is the case.”
The rest of the items included in the OCP review, she said, were “gravy.”
“At the time (these were included), I was new in the position; I thought, ‘I guess if staff has all this time to do all these points, then, why not?’” Johanson added.
“But now here we are at the end of 2020, we’re sending out to developers an OCP that is projecting 29 storeys, 25 storeys. I don’t believe that’s accurate, or that it’s going to last in this council – I’m hoping. I’d like to reduce the scope of the OCP to just the heights and get it done.”
Coun. Scott Kristjanson seconded Johanson’s motion.
“I can’t agree more,” he said.
“We had a very clear mandate, and it’s fantastic that we’ve opened up the OCP review to such a huge scope, but, at the same time, we need to get things done and show progress. I think, (to) Coun. Johanson’s point, it’s not fair to property owners to give them a perception that we’re going to allow 29 storeys, when really what we’re hearing from residents, I think, was 11 or 12 storeys, max.
“We need to focus on level-setting with our developers and property owners on what people want in their community.”
Coun. Helen Fathers said she also favoured Johanson’s motion, noting that other OCP topics, such as strengthening transit, and examining Peace Arch Hospital expansion were either moot, or not as pressing.
“I might not be on the same page as Coun. Kristjanson and Coun. Johanson as regards the heights in the Town Centre – I think somewhere between 10 storeys and 18 storeys might be a better option – but I’m certainly in favour of bringing it forward,” she said.
“We don’t have a lot of time left, and as Coun. Johanson has identified, it is most certainly what the community is looking for, some kind of clear and concise direction.”
Mayor Darryl Walker voiced some concern that some other OCP areas – such as “greening” the city and monitoring OCP progress – might be missed by narrowing the scope of the review.
“While I don’t disagree with the motion, and the idea of limiting heights, it seems to me there’s a heck of a lot more in the OCP, and in our strategic plan, than simply limiting heights.”
Fathers also said she would not like to see “greening” neglected, but Johanson said it’s her understanding that much of the work reviewing the town centre’s public space and green space policies has already been done.
Coun. Christopher Trevelyan said he was also “generally supportive” of Johanson’s motion.
“I think other parts of the OCP are important, but one of the most timely is height and density,” he said.
“There are developers and other interested parties wanting to know what the rules are, and that’s the most pressing for us, quite frankly.”
Coun. David Chesney, who ultimately voted in favour of the motion, said he wasn’t sure that there was a point to reviewing height and density concerns as public turnout to some OCP open houses had been as few as 25 to 30 people.
“I understand Democracy Direct’s desire to live up to their election platform,” he said.
But Johanson countered that some other meetings had gathered as many as 140 people, while Kristjanson said he did not view low turnout to some meetings as indicative of resident apathy.
“I think it actually speaks volumes that we’re on the right page,” he said.
“I think you’ll remember that previous councils had public hearings where there were a couple of hundred people involved. That’s probably because they weren’t happy with what was happening.
“Most people just want to get on with their lives, and if we’re on the right page, people will probably not show up in the hundreds that we saw four years ago.”