Stacey Wilson photo                                 White Rock council initiated a rethink on building heights south of Thrift Avenue Wednesday, where 12-storey buildings had been approved.

Stacey Wilson photo White Rock council initiated a rethink on building heights south of Thrift Avenue Wednesday, where 12-storey buildings had been approved.

White Rock ‘hits pause button’ on highrises

Council scrutinizes Lower Johnston Road projects that already received development permits

White Rock’s newly-elected council took aim at two previously approved Lower Johnston Road highrise projects in a special public meeting Wednesday night.

In a meeting that packed council chambers two days after their inauguration, Mayor Darryl Walker and councillors approved a resolution put forward by Walker to amend the Official Community Plan for the Lower Town Centre that would, in effect, create a temporary “study area” of the neighbourhood by reducing maximum building height to four to six storeys.

Council also adopted resolutions from Walker proposing changes to the zoning bylaw that would limit height and density for both the Solterra at 1350 Johnston Rd. and the Lady Alexandra at 1310 Johnston Rd. – a measure suggested by planning and development services director Carl Johannsen and chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill as a means of what Bottrill termed “hitting the pause button” on the projects.

The measure addressing the Lower Johnston Road projects – permitted under Section 463 of the provincial Local Government Act – can be invoked because, while both projects have received a development permit, neither developer has applied for a building permit.

Under the resolutions – which were the subject of debate by council members who disagreed over specific numbers – each property would be limited to a maximum height of six storeys and a density-determining floor area ratio of 3.5, down from 12 storeys and a ratio of 4.8.

Council also approved preparation of a corporate report on options for conducting a citywide review of the Official Community Plan and related consideration of the city’s Regional Context Statement, which Bottrill assured them could be provided by the next regular council meeting, scheduled for Nov. 19.

Bottrill explained that, if building permits are applied for, the city would have 60 days, which could be extended to a maximum of 90 days, to complete study of the two projects.

“As soon as the building permit is applied for, the clock starts ticking,” Bottrill said. He also noted that council would “not be fettered” by any numbers of storeys or floor-area ratios selected for study purposes.

Also approved by council as part of the process of re-examining the projects, is an extensive corporate report including current and proposed zoning, “identification of the interests of the community as a whole,” discussion of esthetic values and protecting the unique character of the neighbourhood, but also a process of consultation with affected property owners to ensure “scrupulous fairness in procedure.”

The two projects are among three in the city – identified in a summary of 14 current major projects by Johannsen earlier in the evening – that are without building permits. The third, the Verve at 1456 Johnston Rd., falls within town centre zoning that already permits highrises.

But Solterra, approved by the previous council at a height of 12 storeys last year, and Lady Alexandra, granted a development permit at 12 storeys in June, are in an OCP area deemed a transitional zone between buildings of up to 23 storeys in the uptown area down to a maximum of four storeys at Five Corners.

They also flank the Blue Frog Studios recording and performance venue at 1328 Johnston Rd.

Prior to the approval of the Lady Alexandra development in June, Blue Frog owner Kelly Breaks had pleaded with council for time for experts to study measures for abating noise and construction vibration, claiming the approval would “put an existing business at risk.”

In response to questions from councillors about whether the viability of Blue Frog Studios would be compromised by the projects, Johannsen said the city plans to bring forward a “good neighbour policy” governing construction in the city.

“I don’t think anyone wants to have construction threaten the viability of that cultural centre,” he said.

Before council approved the height limit of six storeys on a split 5-2 vote – Couns. Erika Johanson and Anthony Manning voted against – Coun. Helen Fathers had moved a height limit of eight storeys for the Lady Alexandra property “in the interests of moving this forward” but received no seconder to the motion.

She had argued that the Lower Johnston projects were essentially “good projects (but) a little bit too high.”

“I wouldn’t want to see these projects decimated so that they went under,” she said.

Following the meeting, Walker acknowledged that the discussion had provoked disagreement among his Democracy Direct running mates, as well as independent councillors Fathers and David Chesney.

“We’ve always said we don’t agree on everything,” he told Peace Arch News.

But he emphasized that council was not locked into the numbers approved for study purposes.

“This only starts a process,” he said.

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