George moves ahead; aquifer studies on tap

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
January 17, 2014 01:00 AM

Director of planning Andre Boel presents his report on the George Hotel and condo project during Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting. In a 3-2 vote, the committee accepted Boel's recommendations to move the application forward while requesting aquifer studies and other information from the developer.

The George Hotel and condo project passed its first major hurdle Tuesday evening when Gibsons council's committee of the whole voted 3-2 in favour of moving forward with the application.

But among the conditions, the applicant will have to pay for two technical reviews of the project's impact on Gibsons' prized aquifer.

More than 120 people packed town hall for the Jan. 14 meeting, which saw council split over accepting the recommendations of director of planning Andre Boel.

These included giving staff the green light to prepare a draft zoning bylaw and development permit for the project's form and character, and to report back on affordable housing and community amenities to be provided by the developer.

Mayor Wayne Rowe stressed that other issues -such as compensation for closing Winn Road and the project's economic benefits - would be discussed at future meetings, but said staff was looking for "high-level direction to proceed" on key aspects of the application.

"There's many, many details that will have to be worked out through the process," Rowe said, predicting that "the George will be on the agenda many times" in the months ahead.

When councillors began debating the merits of the project prior to the vote, Rowe waded in, giving an example of Gibsons' critical need to expand its tax base. He said the Prowse Road lift station had broken down that morning -for the second time in recent months - and that rebuilding it would cost about $2 million.

"We don't have the money to do it -we don't have it," he said. "And the reality is, people are going to have to understand, if we don't have any development in this town the taxes are going to increase to the point where it's going to be unsustainable."

That aspect of the project, he said, "will weigh very heavily on myself."

Coun. Gerry Tretick also cited infrastructure as part of council's "fiscal responsibility to the community," along with helping the struggling retail sector in Gibsons Landing and providing "meaningful work for our young people."

"If we can't take these three things and keep them in front of our face in the present then we're not planning for the future," Tretick said, drawing heavy applause from the gallery.

Coun. Charlene SanJenko said Boel's report "showed me how this proposal does in fact meet the harbour area plan designations as they're seen in the future, and how it does meet the goals that are outlined in the plan."

Under the plan, SanJenko said, "we see the buildings getting bigger in the future but when will that happen and how much bigger? And so we're living that right now."

Taking a more critical view, Coun. Lee Ann Johnson called for additional analysis of the view impacts on residences and public places.

"I am extremely concerned about the height of these buildings," Johnson said, also drawing applause from the gallery. "The height of these buildings is so far beyond anything anticipated by this community in the last 12 years that I've been involved with community planning. We had difficulty talking about four-storey buildings at 40 feet and now we're talking about 100-foot buildings on the waterfront."

The project, she said, "will severely impact views for a very large swath of the hillside."

SanJenko said she agreed with Johnson that "this is not just a discussion about a hotel," but added, "It's also not just a discussion about views. It's a discussion about attracting a whole new leg of business to our community called the meetings and retreats business. And if we're going to be attracting that, we need a minimum of 100 rooms."

On view impacts, Rowe said he did not see the need to examine the issue further, acknowledging that "there's no question there will be view impacts," whether the buildings are four storeys or six."The bigger question is," he said, "is that the trade-off for the things we've been talking about that some of us think will make our community more viable?"

Boel's recommendation for independent aquifer studies was similar to a motion submitted by Coun. Dan Bouman, who said he was pleased by its inclusion.

Saying the debate over the form and character of the project should take a backseat until the aquifer issue is settled, Bouman admitted he was "having a hard time" reconciling the project's scale with the harbour area plan.

After further debate, Bouman issued a challenge to the rest of council.

"The challenge is to have an influence to make the project more acceptable to a much larger number of people," he said. "And that takes some leadership, some in-depth conversation and a lot of effort, and I just hope our council is up to the task."

Before the vote, Johnson asked if the committee could vote separately on each of Boel's recommendations, as "some recommendations I can support and some I can't."

Tretick, however, declined to amend his motion and it carried with Johnson and Bouman opposed.

During questions from the gallery, George planning consultant Art Phillips said an economic analysis showed the project would not be viable if it was scaled down.

"No, this cannot be developed on a smaller scale," Phillips said.

In his report, Boel said a public hearing on the application could possibly be held this spring.

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