A proposal to build a two-storey residence on top of Smitty’s Oyster House received a mixed reception from members of the Town of Gibsons Advisory Planning Commission (APC) on July 21. The contemporary design proposed by John Smith was described by Director of Planning Andre Boel as “a daring approach.”
Introducing his design to the commission, John Smith noted that his family are long time Gibsons residents. His grandfather bought the property in the 1920’s, and his father built the current Smitty’s building in 1958. Smith said that his father intended to build three storeys and put a residence on top, but never did so.
The Smiths own three properties at the head of the main wharf in Gibsons, all currently tenanted by restaurants: Molly’s Reach, Smitty’s and Lunita’s. The couple are currently living in the Lower Mainland, but would like to move back to Gibsons and live over top of Smitty’s.
The proposed design would require a number of variances because it does not conform to the Town’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which calls for a “village scale and character” in the harbour area. Design guidelines specify that buildings fronting the waterfront walk should be no more than two storeys or stepped back from the water, should avoid large areas of flat roof, and should be “human in scale.”
The OCP also calls for consideration of view impacts to uphill properties. The Smiths’ proposal would block the views from the inside of Molly’s Reach Restaurant. However, they own that property as well, and Smith contends that the view is not important.
“People don’t go to Molly’s Reach for the views from those two windows. There’s only two tables that are really affected by it,” he said.
Smith, who has lived in Yaletown, likes the concept of mixing old architecture with contemporary design. When asked if he had considered tearing down Smitty’s, he said he wished to retain it as “a character building.” He noted that he encountered a lot of opposition to turning it into a restaurant 10 years ago, but that it is now popular with the community. “The integrity of the building is something that I’d like to keep,” he said.
Members of the APC were visibly reluctant to vote against the Smiths’ proposal, but a number of concerns were raised about the view impact, massing, and the fit of the design with the historical character of the village in such a high profile location. Richard Watt, who favoured the proposal, noted that he thought the dark and heavy drawings provided by the architect were part of the problem, giving the design “that Darth Vader look.”
After extensive discussion, the APC passed a motion that “it is possible to have a two-storey residence built on top of the existing building,” but also passed two motions expressing concern that the design does not fit with key guidelines around the historical fit of the Landing and stepping back from the waterfront.
The Smith’s have not yet filed their application. This review by the APC was a pre-application review.