White Rock’s Marine Drive will reopen to two-way traffic next month.
Following a special meeting Monday afternoon (July 12) to hear from West Beach business owners, White Rock council voted 4-3 on a motion to stick to its commitment to end its one-way trial of Marine Drive following restoration of full-capacity indoor-dining.
But, the reopening will not happen before Aug. 7.
The reversion date is in part due to the availability of the contractor to remove the barricades, which acting chief administrative officer Jim Gordon told council couldn’t begin until at least Aug. 3.
Waiting till Aug. 7 was also suggested by Coun. Christopher Trevelyan as that will mark two months from when it began.
The eastbound-only route has been in place since June 7, initiated with the intent to give restaurants space to build temporary patios for the peak summer months and offset the impact of COVID-19 indoor-dining restrictions.
At the outset, the pilot was to run – according to minutes of the May 10, 2021 meeting when the motion was made – until September. However, a last-minute amendment – approved a week before the westbound lane was closed – changed its duration to coincide with whenever provincial health authorities eased those restrictions, which ultimately occurred on July 1.
Council was initially expected to make a decision on the matter July 5, but after hearing from East Beach residents that the pilot, in the words of Trevelyan, was “clearly not working for the majority of East Beach businesses,” wanted to give West Beach business owners the same opportunity.
Of those who dialed in this week, the majority – six of nine – urged council to let the one-way project continue, naming increased sales, an improved “vibe” on the waterfront and an ability to re-hire staff that had been laid off as among benefits realized so far. As well, some said they participated and spent thousands of dollars to add a patio on the understanding that the one-way would continue through the summer, and that lay-offs would be inevitable if council “knee-capped” the one-way.
South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Ritu Khanna also weighed in – with “leeway” from Mayor Darryl Walker, who noted her comments would take time away from the West Beach business owners, for whom meeting was scheduled. She told council it would be “premature” to end the project now, and instead encouraged improvements to the permitting process, parking and communication with the public.
Business owners who expressed support for reverting Marine back to two-way traffic said the one-way was actually deterring people from visiting, and that the lane closure “has been a success to a small number of businesses at the cost of others.”
Ocean Beach owner Antonio Veltri said while he was initially in favour of the one-way, the direction of it has “basically killed the main artery coming into White Rock.” It’s “next to impossible to find staff,” he added, and the opposition heard from East Beach “doesn’t sit well with me or the Ocean Beach family.”
“Having four to six restaurants benefit from a one-way, in my eyes, is just not right,” Veltri said.
During discussion that followed the input, council heard that the rental of barricades to facilitate the one-way had so far cost the city $195,000, and would hit somewhere around the $250,000 mark if it continued through September.
Coun. Scott Kristjanson was among those opposed to ending the pilot, contending that council needed to respect its initial decision to embark on the one-way project through September, and noting that businesses that choose to participate made “a large commitment” in doing so.
“I think if we embrace this to Sept. 30, more and more businesses would get onboard and find this is really a win-win for them,” he said.
Trevelyan described the decision as “a hard call.” While he said likes the one-way – including how it looks and the feel it’s brought to the waterfront – and “would love to keep it going,” he had to consider its impact on all businesses.
“Some are doing very well with this and some are not,” he said. “I do apologize right here and right now to the businesses who would like it to go to Sept. 30. I just have to consider… businesses that have reached out and said, ‘I’m hurting.’ And it’s not just east businesses, it’s west as well.”
He noted that council never directed the pilot to run until Sept. 30. That date was, however, listed as the expiry date on the permit application.
Council also received written correspondence on the issue, including two petitions supporting the one-way, one of them signed by 990 members of the public. Of 16 letters received, seven supported the one-way, while nine were opposed.
An earlier motion by Kristjanson to retain the one-way along West Beach and revert East Beach to two-way failed on a 5-2 vote.
Council also voted Monday – with Coun. David Chesney opposed – to conduct a survey of White Rock businesses and residents to collect data on the one-way experiment, for the use of a future council, should they choose to revisit it.