Gibsons council chamber became an election arena Tuesday night as mayoral candidate Suzanne Senger and two of her supporters confronted Mayor Wayne Rowe over what they described as director of planning Andre Boel’s about-face on the George Hotel proposal.
At the centre of the attack was a letter written by Boel to George planning consultant Art Phillips on May 1, 2013, which was circulated by Senger’s group, the Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community (GABC), in an email on Monday.
In the 13-page letter, obtained by GABC from the Town through a freedom of information request, Boel provided a review of the first George proposal and outlined his “concerns regarding the fit of the project with the official community plan.”
The letter said the scale of the development did not meet the intent of Harbour Area Plan policies.
“The eight-storey building is massive compared to the scale of other uses in Gibsons Landing, despite some terracing of some portions of the building,” Boel wrote. “While it may not block views from some uphill residential areas (due to the distance from the development), it does block views as it has a monolithic appearance from Gower Point Road, Winegarden Park and nearby properties.”
Boel recommended four changes to the proposal, including a revision of the building scale and massing that “should include fewer storeys, as well as increased building setbacks and greater extent of terracing.”
Other recommended changes were to increase setbacks from Winegarden Park, avoid the use of Winn Road or “provide a lower profile building through this section that retains the view corridor,” and revise the marine component so that it “does not extend into the waterlot adjacent to Winegarden Park or the Gibsons Marina.”
Senger led the charge during Tuesday’s inquiries, referencing the letter and subsequent meetings between Boel and Phillips on May 3, 2013 and between Boel, Phillips, the CAO and Rowe on May 7, 2013.
“And Art Phillips was pretty clear, it seems from the planner’s notes received through freedom of information, that the George would not be viable without the proposed density, Winn Road and a piece of Gibsons Marina,” Senger told Rowe. “That report was never shared with your fellow members of council and I’d like to know why.”
“You know what?” Rowe responded. “I don’t even recall the report, if there was a report. Sorry. I can’t help you.”
Roger Swickis, who withdrew from the mayoral race last week and threw his support behind Senger, asked “how it evolved” that the second George proposal was deemed to conform with the OCP in March of this year when many of the key concerns raised by the planner the previous year had not been addressed in the revised version.
Rowe said the answer to the question was outlined in Boel’s report on the revised George proposal to council’s committee of the whole on Jan. 14, 2014.
CAO Mani Machado said the “big change” was that the May 2013 letter referred to the original proposal, but the proponent re-submitted a “completely different project” in October of that year.
“That explains how the planner changed his view, because the proponent responded to the letter from May and in fact changed the project substantially,” Machado said.
Judith Hammill, Swickis’s partner, spoke next, asking what were the substantial differences between the two proposals.
“There were four recommendations from the planner and three and a half of them have not been addressed,” Hammill said. “The others apply equally to the new, bigger version of the George.”
Boel responded that several points from his letter “were addressed in the new proposal, mainly by adding more land and splitting the building in two, creating a view corridor. The rest I explained in my report to council.”
Hammill was unconvinced.
“I think we’re getting a crock of you know what here,” she said.
During the final inquiry session, after Hammill distributed copies of Boel’s letter to Rowe and the four councillors, she commented that she suspected Boel “was the victim of undue pressure.”
Rowe told her: “I’m going to state that I resent your disrespect to our director of planning. You can say whatever you want to me, but that’s disrespectful to our director of planning and I resent that.”
“I was not disrespectful to the director of planning,” Hammill retorted. “I was defending him.”
In Boel’s Jan. 14 report on the revised George proposal, he acknowledged the buildings are “significantly larger” than existing structures in the Landing and “not particularly ‘village’ like.” However, he added, the Harbour Area Plan envisions that “over time building scale would increase.” The plan also “describes the need to balance the village scale and character while embracing the growth necessary for an economically viable, sustainable and vibrant community.”
He noted the applicant “has indicated that the viability of the project depends on a hotel size of at least 100 rooms.”