By Maya Atoui
The anticipated George Hotel is fighting for its survival in court while confused and angry citizens wait for further news. Since 2006, the idea of a hotel extending over three times the city height limit has been proposed for the town of Gibsons. However, it wasn’t until the fall of 2017 when the project was given the green light. Construction was set to begin in late fall until the Gibsons Alliance for Business and Community (GABC) took action against the hotel early this year and it is now expected that construction will begin in the summer.
In mid-January, the GABC challenged the George in Supreme Court over false interpretation of a letter received by the Ministry of Environment. It is said that a July 2017 letter from the Ministry of Environment approving developer Klaus Fuerniss’s plans to “remediate the site after decades of industrial activity” is a false approval due to the Town of Gibsons apparent need to perform their own evaluation. Therefore it became necessary that the two development permits (DP) approved in August of last year should be revoked.
“If Gibsons can simply opt out of the laws put in place to protect human health and the environment,” says Suzanne Senger, President of the GABC, “what’s to stop every other local government in B.C. from doing the same thing?”
While the community waits in anticipation for further news, Mayor Wayne Rowe has come out to say that he his “disappointed” by the lawsuit.
“I certainly don’t criticize the right to citizens who want to legally challenge decisions made by the government. In this particular case it is frustrating because, whether it was expressly stated or not, the 2014 election here in Gibsons was largely a referendum on the George Hotel,” says Rowe.
Gibsons can expect to experience a new wave of benefits, such as economic welfare, an increased profit for small businesses and yearly tourist growth of an estimated 32,000.
The George promises an estimated 306,000$ to 345,000$ in yearly municipal property tax and up to 130 full and part-time jobs with an estimated annual annualized income of 40,000$. In addition to this, the George will also pay an annual amount of 844,000$ for community contributions such as fire services, hospitals, libraries, and provincial school taxes.
The project nevertheless strikes some hesitant thoughts among them because of the hotel’s risky height.
The Official Community Plan (OCP) and zoning rules state that the maximum building height is 35 ft, yet the George plans to exceed this limit by over three times, making it an estimated 125ft when completed.
“It would be destroying the view and taking away from the beauty of the coast,” says former long-time resident of the Sunshine Coast, Penny Allport.
The Town of Gibsons is more than accepting of the benefits that will come along with the hotel, although many, including the GABC, wish that the developer would adhere to the zoning laws and development regulations.
“It’s not about whether to build the hotel, it’s about scale and character.”
“I haven’t heard, anybody, really, in Gibsons say that they oppose a hotel on the waterfront in the landing,” says Senger. “It’s not about whether to build the hotel, it’s about scale and character”.
Despite the community’s allegations against the hotel over the years, there is no doubt an overall respect for developer Klaus Fuerniss’s perseverance and “noble” behavior for sticking to his vision.
“From witnessing the process, his [Klaus Fuerniss] capacity to stick with his vision is quite inspiring”, says Allport. “He’s had a lot of hoops to jump through over the years” she adds.
In a time of crisis, the future of the George Hotel remains undetermined. Developer Klaus Fuerniss says he is “waiting for the town to do its due diligence… It’s up to them.”