NEWTON — “We need you to look out for our city.”
Words from Jennifer Doerksen, a Surrey mother of four, seemed to resonate with Surrey city council Monday night who later voted not to give a controversial South Newton development the green light.
While the war may not be over, a small group of parents celebrated their victory Monday after weeks of public opposition to the 287-unit development at the southeast corner of 152nd Avenue and Panorama Drive. The issue at hand? Schools. There’s no room for current students, let alone more, the community voiced loud and clear.
Surrey council voted unanimously Monday to refer the application back to staff to work with the applicant and the school board to “determine how the project can be phased and structured to coincide with new school construction in South Newton.”
Though the province has recently announced funding to help with overcrowding, it wasn’t nearly enough, according to those who live in the community. And until enough is handed over, the community doesn’t want more dense developments.
“You all have amazing opportunities to be heroes for us right now,” Doerksen urged city council before the decision. “Please think outside the box. Do it different. Shake some trees. If you want to rattle some provincial trees there are a lot of families in Surrey that will come right behind you and say we need to change it. Change the (school) funding process for a growing community. They haven’t done it. You’re the biggest. Lead.”
Though hundreds were expected at the hearing to oppose the project, only about 75 people turned out. Twelve people spoke in opposition of the project, two speakers voiced concerns, four people were in favour and three speakers were with the applicant.
Parents, retired teachers, local residents and even an eight-year-old girl named Olivia Stemler (pictured) were among the speakers.
Olivia wanted to come before council because she’s concerned about the loss of green space.
She plays with the bunnies and other wildlife and was upset the land may be cleared, council heard.
Plus, she said “at school we won’t have anywhere to play” on the grass field which is covered in portables.
Sonya Marcinkowska, secretary of the Panorama Neighbourhood Association, urged council to listen to the “unified voice” of the community noting 300 people signed a petition against it.
“By approving this development council will be guaranteeing that our kids for an entire generation will be in portables,” she said before the decision. “The Panorama Neighbourhood Association is not opposing a development on this lot. It is opposing this development. A development that perpetuates the overcrowding of our schools, that will dramatically affect one of the busiest areas of our neighbourhood. We oppose this development a it has been drawn out with a complete disregard of our community who spoke up in large numbers and loudly.
“Mr. Redekop has not met the community half way,” Marcinkowska (pictured) continued. “He hasn’t even met us a 10th of the way.”
Cindy Dalglish, a mother and education advocate, led the charge against the development and, along with other parents, rallied on the grounds of the legislature for more school funding.
She was happy after council’s vote.
“I’m impressed that our council isn’t just rubber-stamping this,” said Dalglish, who represents South Newton Community group. “I’m impressed that they have decided to listen to their constituents and try to come up with a compromise.”
The property has had a “checkered history,” Surrey-Panorama MLA Marvin Hunt told the Now. Way back when it was supposed to be a Woodwards shopping mall but lawsuits killed that idea, he said. Then, the provincial government purchased it to put in an ambulatory care facility but the hospitals thought it would be too far so that idea got spiked as well and the Jim Pattison Outpatient centre was later constructed near Green Timbers forest. After that, the property got put up for sale as surplus, said Hunt.
“There have been different ideas what to do and those sorts of things,” Hunt continued, “It was always the thought that Panorama Drive was sort of put there to be the border between commercial and residential.”
As it stands, the Redekop proposal includes 181 townhouses, but also 106 rental apartment units, a type of housing city council expressed an interest in given the lack of rental stock in the city.
Redekop Homes has modified the initial plans so as to attract older buyers but the community isn’t convinced it’s enough.
Redekop also revealed a plan Monday to “phase in” the townhouse portion of the project – 33 in the first year, and 50 in each of the years that follow.
Though the developer has argued the units will contribute to much-needed affordable housing stock, when asked by Councillor Dave Woods what the price points would be, Redekop said that hadn’t been decided.
It’s not yet known if the application will go back to another public hearing before council’s final decision.
City clerk Jane Sullivan said it “depends what changes are made.”
Councillor Tom Gill thanked residents for “rattling trees.”
“We’re all on the same page, we all have a common goal and I’m hopeful we can get a resolution that’s going to satisfy everybody in the community,” said Gill.
Councillor Judy Villeneuve supported referring the application back to staff and noted she was “not prepared to support the land use tonight with the issues in the community.”
Villeneuve said she could support the project in isolation – seeing as it’s next to commercial properties, near the YMCA and transit, and includes rental units which the city desperately needs – but can’t due to the school capacity woes.
Villeneuve said with a provincial election in the spring the timing was right to push the province.
Mayor Linda Hepner told the audience that for the very first time, the City of Surrey is working directly with the school board in developing a school-funding policy proposal looking at better ways the province can doll out cash to fast-growing cities.
“The province has endorsed that and said, ‘Please bring it forward.’… They’re now asking us, ‘What would you do in a fast growing city?’ and we intend on telling them that,” she said.
Dalglish said she’s going to ask to be at the table for those meetings. Hepner said she intends to have the proposal finalized and sent to the Premier by the fall.
Hepner also revealed Monday that council would be having “workshops” looking at overall development in both the Grandview and South Newton neighbourhoods.