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Council to consider South Surrey inclusive Harmony project today

Staff cites ‘significant public benefit’ in supporting 91-unit project

Proponents of an inclusive-housing project proposed for South Surrey are crossing their fingers it receives a thumbs-up from Surrey council this afternoon (June 28).

“I’m cautiously optimistic – just because I choose to think optimistically,” Colleen McGoff Dean, a board member of UNITI, said Monday morning.

“Harmony would just meet so many needs in the White Rock/South Surrey area.”

UNITI – a partnership of Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and The Semiahmoo Foundation – wants to build its 91-unit Harmony Apartments project in the 15100-block of 20 Avenue. It would be the organization’s second purpose-built project in South Surrey; the first, the four-storey Chorus, opened with 71 units at 2350 153 St. in 2016.

However, following a public hearing April 26 regarding a bylaw amendment to facilitate realignment of the Semiahmoo Heritage Trail – which currently runs through the proposed site – council voted to have staff work with the developer to try and mitigate “some of the issues” raised.

READ MORE: ‘Positive advocacy’ campaign aims to clarify South Surrey inclusive-housing project

Couns. Brenda Locke, Allison Patton and Laurie Guerra, as well as Mayor Doug McCallum, all agreed that there is a need for more supportive housing in Surrey, but said more work was needed on the Harmony proposal as a whole to alleviate a broad range of concerns, which also included traffic and parking impacts, tree loss and the project’s height.

McCallum said he felt that it was not the right location for the type of housing proposed.

Owned by Peninsula Estates Housing Society, the site is currently home to 51 townhomes and an 18-unit apartment building which were built in 1983. Seventeen of the townhomes are slated to be demolished to make way for the new building, with affected tenants of those units to be given first crack at a unit in Harmony.

McGoff Dean said Monday that council’s response to Harmony – which prompted the launch of a ‘positive advocacy’ campaign to raise awareness of what it was all about – is polar opposite to that received for the Chorus project, and that she is “dumbfounded and baffled” by the apparent pushback.

“It’s not a homeless shelter. It’s low-cost housing in an area where people live and work in this community, which is very difficult to find. And it will serve the needs of the whole community,” she said.

Area resident Neil Floyd, who contacted Peace Arch News in May with concerns about the project, said Monday that those concerns have not abated.

“It’s really sad to sort of see this whole property over there sort of get decimated,” Floyd said.

It’s not about the project being rental units, he added, citing impacts to neighbouring homes and traffic as among concerns.

“We’re just flat-out shocked to see, theoretically, a 91-unit, six-storey apartment building go up, and all the implications that’s going to have for this area.”

In a planning and development report included in the agenda package for today’s meeting, city staff recommend council give third reading to the realignment bylaw, authorize staff to draft a development permit and indicate if there is support for a development variance permit.

Staff support the project “based on the significant public benefit that will be realized,” the report states.

Details cited include that correspondence received following the April 26 hearing was largely supportive, and a petition in favour strongly outweighed a petition against (5,483 signatures in support versus 415 opposed).

Opportunities to reduce the building’s height and density were reviewed by the applicant, however, “these options were not viable to provide the level of affordability proposed, which is a central component of the project given Peninsula Estates Housing Society’s (PEHS) is a non-profit housing society whose objective is the relief of poverty and to benefit the community,” the report states.

Revisions made to the plans include a reconfiguration of the western facade of the building, to eliminate the need for a setback variance to the trail; and, adjustments to the colour of the upper storeys to reduce the visual appearance of the height. The trail realignment, it notes, is not part of the historic alignment.

Regarding traffic and parking, the report notes the proposal is anticipated to result in a three per cent increase in peak-hour traffic on 20 Avenue, and that lower vehicle ownership is anticipated based on factors including the project’s proximity to transit and income level of the tenants.

McGoff Dean, whose 28-year-old daughter, Sierra is supported by Semiahmoo House Society, said she is hopeful there will be a large turnout of support at today’s meeting. To be held virtually, it is set to get underway at 5:30 p.m.

Shawn Low, the city’s acting manager of planning and development, south division, said if council supports staff’s recommendations today, the applicant will have to complete outstanding conditions for approval, and it would likely proceed to final adoption in four to six months.

If denied, the applicant would have to wait six months before they could re-apply.

And, if the application is referred back to staff, the applicant could choose to either address concerns and another report would be forwarded to council for further consideration, or they could choose to close the application if they are unable to address the concerns within the scope of the project.
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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