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Written on November 9th, 2018

White Rock’s new council is “opening a can of worms” by reducing the height of two planned residential towers from 12 storeys to six storeys at its first meeting since election.

White Rock council voted Wednesday to hit the pause button on two 12-storey residential towers planned for the city’s downtown core, a decision one developer said would “obliterate” several years of planning work.

The newly elected mayor, Darryl Walker, said he heard from many residents during the campaign who were frustrated by overdevelopment, specifically “height restrictions that were well above what the people of White Rock thought to be reasonable.”

At a meeting Wednesday night, the first since Walker and four of his Democracy Direct running mates were elected, council voted to cut the allowable height for two proposed mixed-use buildings on Johnston Road from 12 storeys to six while the city reviews its Official Community Plan, or OCP.

Although both projects, the 12-storey Lady Alexandra and the 12-storey Solterra, had received development permits and were within the limits set out in the city’s OCP, they had not yet applied for a building permit. Projects that had received or applied for a building permit, including several towers over six storeys already under construction, were not affected by council’s decision.

At the same meeting, council also voted to review the OCP, which was passed by the previous council in 2017 after almost three years of consultation.

Walker said he could not comment on the process used to arrive at the city’s current OCP because he was not on council, but he felt White Rock had given him a mandate to “go back and review” the document that guides planning and land use in the city.

Coun. Helen Fathers said her intention in voting to review the OCP and building heights was “not to decimate these projects.”

The incumbent councillor said debate in White Rock is often split between pro- and anti-development voices, and “council’s job is to find something in the middle.”

The developer behind one of the proposed buildings on Johnston Road said he was worried council had become anti-development.

“We’ve spent years working on this, consulting with city planners,” said Peter Cross. “The first thing (council has) done is attack us.”

Cross said going from 12 storeys to six storeys will require a complete redesign of his project. He was also concerned about an approximately 20 per cent reduction in the allowable density on the site.

“I think they’ve opened a can of worms,” he said, adding he anticipates his team will be seeking legal advice on next steps.

Former mayor Wayne Baldwin said the OCP process was extensive and included many public meetings and open houses.

“The new council is comprised entirely of people who did not agree with some of the decisions made in that process, so it comes as no surprise that upon election they would immediately take on a process of attempting to reverse the OCP in some areas at least,” he said.

Baldwin said he felt it was council’s right to reverse past decisions as long as it was done within the law.

“White Rock has a history of bouncing between councils that want to deal with growth and change, and those that want no growth and no change, and right now we are dealing with the latter.”