School capacity concerns spark opposition to Panorama development

“There’s literally nowhere for their kids to go, let alone our kids,” says mom leading the fight.

Cindy Dalglish with the South Newton Community group says the area's already overcrowded schools can't handle a proposed 287-unit Panorama development.

NEWTON — Stop building in Panorama – there’s simply no space for more kids in schools.

That’s the message two community groups hope the city receives.

The Panorama Neighbourhood Association and South Newton Community group have joined forces to voice their opposition to a proposed 287-unit development on a 2.5-acre lot at the southeast corner of 152nd Avenue and Panorama Drive.

They’re asking the developer to go back to the drawing board and come back with something that doesn’t impact local schools.

More than 100 people attended an open house for the Panorama project Monday night at the Tong Louie YMCA. The lineup was out the door.

“Tonight I hope the developer hears us loud and clearly and goes back to the drawing table or proposes to resell the property,” said Cindy Dalglish, with PNA and SNC, adding, “I’d like this to stall out for a while until the province gives us funding for schools.”

While parking and traffic issues are also of concern, Dalglish said they don’t hold a candle to the school overcrowding woes.

Dalglish first got involved in the fight when there was talk of downsizing the French Immersion program at Woodward Hill Elementary to build seats for English students due to capacity issues.

“From there it snowballed,” she said, as parents involved realized this was just the tip of the iceberg.

“I feel bad for the developer because it’s kind of poor timing,” remarked Dalglish.

“If (the developer) came in two years from now when schools are announced you’d barely get a boo out of us. It’s because there’s literally nowhere for their kids to go, let alone our kids,” said Dalglish.

Steve Henderson, vice president of the Panorama Neighbourhood Association, said it’s “negligent of the city to allow these things to go through knowing full well schools are already at capacity and that there’s nothing in the pipeline to address that.”

Planned expansions are only to address current capacity issues, noted Henderson, not any new students that may arrive.

“The city, we think, needs to start showing a little bit more of a leadership role in planning the neighbours as opposed to rubber stamping everything developers put in front of them,” said Henderson. “We’d like to see a little bit more outside-the-box thinking and more creative development, especially with this prime piece of property.”

He added: “I think the city has a leadership role here as opposed to just pointing to the province.”

The proposed Redekop Homes development, at 5750 Panorama Dr., includes 181 townhomes (originally 198), 106 apartment suites, a commercial plaza and a public park.

To move ahead, the developer needs the city to approve an OCP amendment from commercial to multiple residential, an NCP amendment from institutional to commercial, density increases and more.

At a council meeting on March 7, Surrey council referred the application back to staff in order for the developer to address concerns surrounding density and the potential negative impact to local schools, as well as a lack of indoor amenity space.

Before that meeting the city had received 34 emails and five phone calls expressing concern with the proposal. The application notes an online petition organized by the PNA at change.org has 246 signatures but it couldn’t be verified as no signatures or addresses were provided.

Developer James Redekop was at Monday’s open house talking with residents.

“We fully understand the concern of the neighbours,” said Redekop. “We’ve gone back and redesigned some of the development.”

He said of the 181 townhouses currently in the plan, 31 have been changed so as to attract down sizers and empty nesters.

“They are elevator capable, so if people want they can put them in very easily. They’re bigger units, they’re 2,000 square feet, so it’s probably a price tag that wold fit more for people moving out of a large house or something. We’ve taken 31 units, we believe, out of the family market,” said Redekop.

The school district is aware of the development and is included in its projections, he added.

Surrey school trustee Laurae McNally’s recently called for a development freeze in areas that are experiencing overcrowding in schools.

SEE MORE: Surrey school trustee’s call to curb growth ‘hit a chord’

But Redekop said a such a move would “multiply the issues right now of panic and housing and values skyrocketing.”

“There’s two issues that need to be considered. It’s not just that schools are the sole issue. They are for the people living here, I understand that, but housing affordability and housing availability are two major issues that Greater Vancouver faces and Surrey in particular. People want to live in Surrey. We’re supposed to be happy about that,” he said.

Redekop noted if you underzone a property it can’t be undone.

“That problem is there for the next 50 years,” he said. “The school issue is a problem right now but if you can get proper funding for new additions and a new school, that problem can be solved. The other one can’t be. I’m guessing that’s something that Surrey council is struggling with.

Redekop asserted that while some think Surrey city council is listening to developers, he believes they’re actually listening to people who want to live here.

“They know if they don’t permit reasonable development, reasonable zoning that fits the area, they’re going to run out of land and then they’ve got an even bigger problem,” he stated.

Dalglish expects the fight over this Panorama project to be the first of many for the neighbourhood groups.

“There will be more battles,” she said. “We’re trying to get the province and the city to listen about needing more schools. Fast. Now.”

Surrey council has not yet sent the application to public hearing.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

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