The George Hotel, Condos, and Marina proposal has reared its ugly head.
On Tuesday, May 12th, at 7 p.m. at Gibsons Legion, the new council will be considering the geotechnical (aquifer) study for Klaus Fuerniss’s George hotel along with peer reviews of the study. They will also consider giving first reading to a zoning bylaw enabling the development.
You will recall that Fuerniss’s development application originally included a report by Horizon Engineering that said excavations for the project would not harm Gibsons’ aquifer, and that GABC was very troubled by this claim. We commissioned a peer review of the report in January 2014 that determined excavations would in fact penetrate Gibsons’ aquifer. After a year of study and further peer review, it turns out that all our concerns and predictions have been proven correct.
For fuller details of the many things that are just plain wrong with this plan, please read below “the fold”. The bottom line is that this project is far too risky, would be a huge loss of public assets, and would leave us with serious environmental and tax liabilities.
Please come out to the council meeting on Tuesday at the Legion, 7 p.m., and help protect our waterfront from over-development, preserve our seaside village character, and ensure the integrity of our aquifer.
I. RISKS TO THE AQUIFER
Waterline, the consultants who conducted the mapping of Gibsons Aquifer, peer reviewed the hydrogeological aspects of Fuerniss’s study. Some comments from their review include:
- On the land portion of the project site, the possibility of an uncontrollable breach of the Gibsons Aquitard caused by the proposed excavation for the parking garage is of major concern.
- “If heaving is indicated during construction then it may already be too late for corrective action.”
- “…It is Waterline's opinion that there is insufficient data to characterize the Gibsons Aquifer-Aquitard system within the proposed dredging area or to fully understand the impact of the proposed marine development on the Gibsons Aquifer-Aquitard system.”
A second peer review by Levelton Engineering, the company who reviewed Horizon’s geotechnical work, said over and over again in their report of May 7th, 2015, that many serious questions and issues remain unanswered. They express concern with the credibility of some of Horizon’s statements and assert that the Horizon study does not appear to have considered factors that might result in potential soil piping, uncontrolled sinkhole, aquifer depressurization, or ground settlement, any of which could be catastrophic. They suggest that the issue of dredging for the marina and cleaning up the contamination landward and seaward of the site should be dealt with before any permits are issued, and they question the economic feasibility of the project.
Levelton conclude their report saying, “We are not at this time in a position to advise the Town that the report, as submitted, has adequately addressed the potential geotechnical issues or provided a suitable confidence level as to the adequacy of proposed site preparation and foundation concepts.”
As you can see, both are damning reviews.
II. REDESIGN (OR TINKERING?)
In response to these reports and reviews, Fuerniss has recently done some redesigning of the parking garage, which addresses some but not nearly all of the very serious issues of risk to the aquifer. In fact, the design now includes driving pilings into Gibsons aquifer that would have to be monitored in perpetuity.
Instead of scaling down the project because they must not excavate the site as deeply as they want to, they jacked up the buildings on the site so now they are EVEN HIGHER.
Walking along the beach path, people would be confronted with a 20-foot wall up to where the “plaza” begins, with the rest of the 125-foot-high building looming above. From the water, a 40-foot-high floating restaurant, surrounded by large yacht slips, would tunnel you in. The “ground floor” of the hotel on Gower Point Road has been raised by another 10 feet. Standing in the shadow of the monolith on Gower Point Road, you would not be able to see the ocean past the massive complex of buildings. To the southeast, the buildings would shade out the path, the park, the water.
III. THE TOWN
Town planner Andre Boel has proposed a zoning bylaw for first reading for this atrocious project, which you will find on the meeting agenda. A matter of this import would usually come to a committee meeting for discussion first and then be brought forward to council. In this case, the agenda and reports were released only on Friday afternoon and the zoning bylaw rushed into Tuesday’s council meeting with the suggestion of first reading and moving forward with an OCP amendment process.
In his report the planner talks about the Geotechnical/hydrogeological investigations saying,“some of the suggested follow up will need to take place during the rezoning process, other items will be identified for future follow up, if the project were to be approved” (our emphasis). He says the same thing about the Environmentally Sensitive Areas: “A more detailed review for DPA No.2 Environmentally Sensitive Areas will be more closely considered after rezoning has been finalized and before Building Permit.”
Sadly, this is all going along exactly as predicted. Selling off and giving away public assets through re-zoning while critical issues are left for “later.” Campaign promises made by all five elected people to NEGOTIATE the scale and character of the non-compliant project? Not even part of the equation.
IV. OFFICIAL COMMUNITY PLAN
After all the concerns voiced by citizens about the town’s changing the OCP to enable the George and the categorical DENIAL by the mayor and staff that this was going on, the planner has described the “fit of the proposed zoning” in his report by pointing to New Harbour Area policyin the revised Official Community Plan stating:
“With the OCP update adoption on March 17, 2015, a new policy was added to the Harbour Area Plan…. The Official Community Plan provides direction for Council decisions and the current proposal for the George Hotel and Residences can only address this new policy through an OCP amendment” (our emphasis).
V. WHAT’S IN IT FOR US?
The amenity contributions Fuerniss proposes are a joke. The Town is setting up to give away public lands and water leases for a song. It’s not much more complex than that. Infrastructure (DCC) costs are all site- and project-specific. In other words the developer pays for what he needs, builds/upgrades the infrastructure for his project, and then we get stuck paying to maintain it—forever.
VI. NOW WHAT?
We feel that regulations and bylaws have been misinterpreted and misrepresented, guidelines ignored, processes reconfigured, and serious issues swept under the rug, all to push forward a project that benefits only the developer. We also believe that the mayor has a clear conflict of interest because his law firm (corporation) took money for a real estate transaction carried out specifically for this project.
Unfortunately, we suspect this application will become the focus of numerous lawsuits and/or become a serious liability for taxpayers over the long term. We need look no further than Sechelt to see the legacy of debt, injustice, and liability facing the citizens there after the former mayor and majority of former council members neglected their fiduciary duty and acted while in conflict of interest.
We have no intention of letting things go that far in Gibsons.
If you are tempted to skip this meeting on a sunny spring evening, please note that the George campaign team (who seem to be in the know) is madly rallying their supporters to come out to this meeting, describing it as a critical moment for citizens to show up and make their views known.
We have a chance to preserve something special in Gibsons. Please join us at the meeting at the Legion on Tuesday 7 p.m. and help us protect Gibsons from this irreversible loss.
Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community