White Birch developer feels ‘betrayed’ by City of White Rock council
Application for new rental building at 1485 Fir St. turned down by council:
A developer who planned to build a six-storey rental building on Fir Street, only to have the project shot down in the final hour, says he feels betrayed by some members of White Rock council.
Mahdi Heidari said that for two years he was given the impression that council was supportive of the project because it’s not only 100 per cent rental, but also because of adjustments he’s made, at request of city staff, to appease council.
“I feel I have been betrayed by those councillors because they gave me so much encouragement and support for two years, but the very end, they pulled the carpet out from my feet,” Heidari told Peace Arch News Tuesday.
The application, which was defeated at Monday evening’s regular council meeting, involved a six-storey, 80-unit rental building proposed for 1485 Fir St. The redevelopment was to replace an aging three-storey rental, which was built in 1965.
Couns. Erika Johanson, Scott Kristjanson, Christopher Trevelyan, Anthony Manning, who are all members of the Democracy Direct party that campaigned on a promise to slow development, voted against the project.
Mayor Darryl Walker, who is part of the same slate, voted for the project, as did Couns. Helen Fathers and David Chesney.
During Monday’s meeting, Democracy Direct councillors shared similar reasons for why the project should be stopped, including that the city is undergoing an official community plan (OCP) review that would set a guideline for building heights in the area. The councillors agreed that a decision should wait the until the OCP review is complete.
During the meeting, Coun. Johanson read a message to council that is posted on the Democracy Direct party website. “We strongly believe that our city hall should listen to the needs, hopes and concerns of the residents of White Rock. We believe everyone should have a voice and be heard. We believe that the OCP needs to be reviewed with the public and then adhered to,” Johanson said, reading the party message.
However, a majority of people who provided feedback to the city were in support of the project, 33 to 20.
During discussion Monday, Fathers made note of the support at the public hearing, where eight people spoke in support and four people voiced opposition.
“The public hearing was scarcely attended,” Johanson said in response to Fathers, adding that 140 people attended an OCP review – “I think that’s significant.”
Johanson listed a number of concerns council has heard regarding the project, including compromised views, increased traffic, not enough green space, style of the building, challenges with finding new homes for existing residents, and increased rental rates for returning residents.
As part of his compensation and tenant relocation package, Heidari was offering existing tenants up to a 30 per cent discount on market rent if they decided to return to the building once construction was complete.
“This would be a social housing contribution of this project. I mean, there is only so much a developer can do on their own. I do not receive $1 from any level of government, municipality or any charities,” Heidari said.
“If this is not affordable, if this is not social housing, I just don’t know what else can please this council.”
Chesney, who threw his support behind the “tremendous project,” told council an increase in rent is to be expected. “I’d still like to be able to buy a ’66 Mustang for $2,000, but that’s just not the state of the land these days,” Chesney said. “I don’t know how we can possibly hold our rents down at the level that they were in the 1970s by any stretch of the imagination.” Heidari said council’s decision to vote down the project will send a message to the development community that might tarnish the city’s reputation. “This will send a very, very negative message,” Heidari said. “I believe the message that’s it’s going to send out is, ‘Don’t come to White Rock, even for rental.’”
During last week’s public hearing, Heidari mentioned to council the carrying costs of the building. Tuesday, he told PAN that he has sunk “hundreds of thousands” of dollars into the project and no longer has savings to pay for the carrying costs.
Heidari said the mortgage, property tax, insurance, and utilities alone costs twice as much as he collects in rent. Asked what’s next for the building, he replied that he wasn’t sure, but added that bankruptcy and foreclosure is on the table.
“They should have at least given me some idea of what to do, how to keep the building running until there is a better decision, but obviously they just rejected the idea. This will hurt everybody. It will hurt me, it will hurt the tenants, it will hurt the city,” Heidari said.
“I wish council will approve to pay me something from the (community amenity contribution) or from somewhere, so I can at least pay for the carrying costs, to look after the tenants until there is a solution.”
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