It was supposed to be the public launch of the Town of Gibsons official community plan (OCP) update - but instead it was almost all about George.
About 50 people attended the first public information meeting for the Town's OCP review on Nov. 25 at the Gibsons and Area Community Centre.
The public was asked to fill out surveys identifying the things they valued most about Gibsons today, issues they would like the OCP to address and ideas for the future, as well as answer specific questions on natural assets, infrastructure priorities and other municipal topics.
When the floor was opened to questions, however, participants quickly shifted focus to the proposed George Hotel development, and the notwithstanding clause in the harbour area plan that allows council to consider proposals that do not meet the OCP's height and massing guidelines.
Claiming the George proposal "breaks almost every aspect of the OCP," resident Andre Sobolewski said his concern was that "anything we say or do here can be negated" through the notwithstanding clause, which he described as "an escape hatch built into the plan."
Director of planning Andre Boel said the situation was not so black and white.
"The clause gives some leeway to height and massing, but not everything else," Boel said.
When a speaker said he did not know how such a proposal could even go before council, Boel said he would be reporting back to council on the project later in December.
"The final decision on a rezoning application like this lies with council," Boel said.
"The George proposal is making us quite cynical," a woman in the audience said.
Saying height restrictions in communities like Vancouver's Kitsilano "are sacrosanct," another speaker said he could not understand how the Town "can double the limit in the OCP."
When a woman asked how the George application could get past his desk, Boel said he would explain the process to her after the meeting, and added: "This meeting is not about the George application."
The questions and comments continued, however, with one man asking, "If enough people say we want to get rid of a notwithstanding clause, can we get that out?"
Meeting facilitator Vince Verlaan, who had directed George-themed comments to the "other issues box" in the survey, said the OCP update was not a referendum.
"You can put forth a very strong case, but it doesn't guarantee inclusion," Verlaan said.
"Exclusion is what I want," said the speaker.
The barrage of criticism prompted resident Jo-Anne McNevin to tell the audience it was "being a little unfair" by putting "staff on the spot," and the question-and-answer period ended soon after with Verlaan asking participants to "direct your energies back to the survey."
Last updated in 2005, the OCP review will include four public meetings and three public surveys before the expected adoption date of June 2014, Verlaan said.
In the review's second phase, he said, the Town will create "a kitchen table conversation guide," and residents can host an OCP meeting at home, order pizza for the guests and get reimbursed for the meal after sending in a completed work book.
The initiative is being billed as OCPizza Night.
Display boards from the open house and surveys can be found on the Town website at www.gibsons.ca.
The survey closes on Dec. 12.