WHITE ROCK LOWER TOWN CENTRE
May 12, 2017 – by James Schouw
CULTURE, COMMERCIAL VITALITY AND GROWTH MANAGEMENT
In anticipation of White Rock’s OCP (Official Community Plan) review – looking forward to 2045 – it is imperative for local residents and businesspeople to recognize this pivotal opportunity to revitalize the Lower Town Centre (southward of Thrift Avenue along Johnston Road).
The Lower Town Centre’s potential role as a vibrant cultural, commercial and residential neighbourhood – and essential continuity between the Town Centre and Beach communities – should be enthusiastically supported.
Improvements and development along Lower Johnston Road should emphasize a continuous and engaging streetscape with an animated mix of commercial and cultural venues.
Streetscape vitality should be supported by significant residential density – including homes suited to varied family size and lifestyle – for three critical reasons:
- A diverse and substantial community of local residents is vital to the success and vibrancy of existing and new businesses.
- Scarcity of allowable density would discourage owners from developing their Lower Town Centre properties. An OCP that allows insufficient residential density would induce many property owners to delay development plans in hopes that future OCP reviews – years or decades into the future – might more comprehensively address growth requirements.
- Under tight OCP density constraints, any Lower Town Centre properties that owners would nonetheless be willing to develop in the near future would have the unintended consequence of effectively eliminating those properties as higher-density development opportunities in the future.
That last point should be of greatest concern to residents all across White Rock because any density deficiency in the Lower Town Centre now will result in greater density pressure across the rest of White Rock in the future. That’s crucial because the Lower Town Centre, along with the Town Centre, is considerably more appropriate for additional density than other White Rock neighbourhoods.
For those reasons, residents, staff and council are encouraged to adopt a forward-looking, 2045-cognizant approach and to support moderately high residential density in the Lower Town Centre – and continuous street-level commercial and cultural venues along lower Johnston Road.
The Lower Town Centre, in addition to needing commerce-invigorating residential density, is also the neighbourhood that can accommodate additional development with the least relative impact on existing residents. A well-planned central spine of development along lower Johnston Road, with residential density and height graduating downward from the Town Centre to Five Corners, will support revitalization and growth management objectives without the invasive impacts often associated with spot rezoning within mature low-density residential neighbourhoods.
As a guideline, residential density might most appropriately begin with FAR (floor area ratio) of approximately 3.5 near Five Corners and graduate to about 4.5 at Thrift Avenue (in addition to cultural and commercial FAR) – with corresponding building heights graduating incrementally from about 6 storeys near Five Corners to about 20 storeys near Thrift. For perspective, prior to 2013 Lower Town Centre properties could be developed to a gross FAR of approximately 3.0 to 3.5 – far less than what is currently appropriate.
Relatively slender, vertically-oriented designs should be encouraged in order to optimize view angles from the largest number of existing and new homes, and also to allow for generous outdoor residential spaces and substantial setbacks above the first three or four storeys – to celebrate public-realm views of the ocean.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
It is of great importance to clearly support city staff and council with respect to these matters of discussion, so please take a few moments to articulate your views in a concise letter or email to the White Rock Director of Planning, and preferably also to council. Additionally, please attend one or more of several community engagement meetings that city staff have scheduled, and be certain to write your comments for compilation and consideration by White Rock planning staff and city council. Please remember the significance of this OCP review with respect to its contextual view toward 2045.