Surrey’s new city council has granted final approval for a transitional housing project near Green Timbers forest that’s been in the works for years, although it will no longer include a shelter, as previously planned.
The proposal, on a 12-acre property at 14150 Green Timbers Way, will see a six-storey facility built across from the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre.
Although planning documents state the facility would operate in part as an “emergency” and “low barrier shelter,” that has changed.
An Oct. 1 report describes the project as having “a 30-bed emergency shelter that will provide immediate, temporary housing and care for individuals with mental health and substance abuse challenges” and “a 100-bed transitional housing facility.”
But prior to council’s vote on Dec. 3, Surrey’s General Manager of Planning and Development Jean Lamontagne said the shelter beds were no more.
“I’ve contacted BC Housing directly and asked them, as per your request (Mayor Doug McCallum), that there would be no shelter bed components as part of the project. They’ve indicated that there is only self-contained units within the project. It’s different than what they used to do in the past, what they would have had, shelter bed bunks in some areas, and supportive housing units. This will be all supportive housing units,” he said.
Councillor Brenda Locke confirmed the project no longer includes a shelter component, and estimated shovels would be in the ground “early in 2019.”
“It will be transitional housing – no shelter,” Locke said. “It has changed very recently.”
While Locke said she’s concerned about there being too few shelter beds in Surrey, she thinks pulling them from the project “was the right thing to do, to keep emergency shelter beds away from the transition beds. It’s a different population. I think the change is positive. But do we have to look for more emergency shelter beds? Yes we do. We have to get on that.”
Locke also voiced her concern over the shortfall of extreme weather shelter spaces in North Surrey this year. “This week, oh my goodness, minus-5 and people are sleeping on the concrete?” she said.
BC Housing sent the Now-Leader an emailed statement saying the project will include “96 supportive housing units, with self-contained bathrooms. It also has 27 transitional accommodation units – note that these are individual self-contained rooms, providing additional privacy. These are not group-style shelter beds.
“BC Housing prefers to create supportive housing which provides homes for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness,” the statement added. “Shelter spaces are used to address an immediate need to get people off the streets and into a warm, dry, bed overnight.”
In April, 2017, the provincial government committed $15 million to the housing project. At the time, construction was set to begin in February of 2018, with completion expected in April of 2020.
Before the council vote on Dec. 3, Councillor Steven Pettigrew said he wanted to express his “frustration, and the frustration of the community.”
Pettigrew explained that because the application was between third and fourth reading at council, he was not allowed to discuss the project with residents. And, the public has no opportunity to speak before the new council, as the previous Surrey First council had already held a public hearing.
Pettigrew noted he is “definitely in opposition to this, not because of anything in particular to the actual project itself, but we’ve just got to stand up for the woods and the trees. It’s a special place there.”
He was the lone member of Surrey council to vote against final adoption of rezoning the property, and a development variance permit, which reduces the rear east yard setback for the planned buildings and structures and reduces the minimum number of on-site parking spaces required. According to city staff, eight pieces of correspondence were received in opposition to the permit at the time the agenda was printed last Friday, and another three with concerns.
The City of Surrey purchased the property from the province in 2014, and the province will be building the supportive housing on the land.
The former Surrey First city council voted unanimously to approve third reading of the rezoning request on May 9, 2016.
An Official Community Plan amendment received council’s blessing on that day to re-designate the forested site from mixed employment to multiple residential and to rezone the site from one acre residential to comprehensive development to permit institutional, civic, medical and government-related offices, residential uses, a care facility, emergency shelter, transitional housing, offices, a bio-energy facility, parking, retail stores and restaurants to be developed there.
Before the 2016 vote, then-councillor Judy Villeneuve checked with staff that the land was not part of the dedicated Green Timbers Urban Forest, through either the 1987 or the 1996 referendums.
“The City of Surrey is behind on social infrastructure,” she said at the time, noting the city had been trying to get a new shelter in place for the past five to eight years, prior to 2016, and that BC Housing has signed off on this location.
The rezoning application was met with some opposition before the 2016 vote.
Don Schuetze, president of Green Timbers Heritage Society, was met with applause when he said the forest should instead be declared part of Green Timbers Forest. “It’s difficult to argue against care facilities, transitional housing and the other uses that are being mentioned here,” he told the Surrey First council of the day. “They’re necessary causes, and if it was any other space I’d be embarrassed to even question it. But Green Timbers is special, it’s unique, and it is threatened.”
Once “dug over,” he told council, the forest can never be brought back. “It can’t be picked up and moved to another part of Surrey. It can’t be re-conceptualized and developed somewhere else. This is it.”
Some speakers voiced enthusiasm for the application. Kirk Fisher, of South Surrey, produced 95 letters from medical and business professionals and staff in support.
-With files from Tom Zytaruk