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Surrey council turfs non-profit housing, approves four condo towers

Density A.O.K. in city centre; not so much in South Surrey for non-profit
Peninsula Estates Housing Society's proposed 91-unit rental complex in South Surrey

Surrey city council has rejected a non-profit organization’s proposal to build a six-storey apartment at 20 Avenue and 151A Street in the sleepy neighbourhood of Semiahmoo while green-lighting close to 2,000 market condos in the burgeoning city centre.

Doug Tennant, representing Peninsula Estates Housing Society, appeared confident before Monday’s marathon public hearing that the changes he had made to the 91-unit, non-market rental proposal (dubbed “Harmony”) were sufficient, especially considering the one-sided correspondence to the city in favour of it.

But in the end, Safe Surrey Coalition councillors kyboshed the proposal that Tennant said cost “well over” $1 million to put together over three years of consultation with neighbours, some of whom complained about the building’s height next to their properties. Other concerns included traffic and potential for the complex to set a precedent of redevelopment in the area.

City planners recommended the project after time was spent with development manager Catalyst and architect Integra Architecture Inc. to re-adjust the popular Semiahmoo Trail, after the application came to council in May but was rejected. And, since about one quarter of the tenants will have cognitive disabilities, there was less need for parking, noted staff. Furthermore, the height was consistent with the Semiahmoo Town Centre plan approved by council in 2020 — all that was needed was a development permit variance, the likes of which are routinely issued each council meeting.

The project would have bulldozed 17 out of 52 existing townhouses on the two-hectare site that are offered at 30% of a family’s gross income. In place of those would have come 91 units, including 19 studios (about 400 square feet), 32 one-bedrooms, 24 two-bedrooms and seven three-bedrooms (with a maximum size of 1,050 square feet). 

Mayor Doug McCallum and Couns. Laurie Guerra, Mandeep Nagra, Doug Elfrod and Allison Patton voted against the development, which had 100 letters of support from residents and six opposed to it. Even the group Friends of Semiahmoo Trail was on board. 

“Many of the people who wrote in support of the proposal are persons with developmental disabilities, or parents of persons with developmental disabilities, whose dream is to have a supportive and affordable housing option available for themselves or their children to live independently within their existing neighbourhood,” wrote staff.

No council members provided an explanation for their vote, puzzling Tennant, who also presented a petition of close to 6,000 signatures.

“To get to the end of it all with all that support and at the end of it all have it not supported and without comment…So I’m still in the dark as to what reasons there are,” said Tennant.

But on Tuesday, Guerra told Glacier Media her primary concern was density. She said the favourable correspondence was not primarily from residents in the area, to whom she gave more weight.

“They were going to share a backyard with a four-storey building and they’re two stories,” said Guerra, adding she was told by opposing neighbours that Tennant hadn’t spoken to them.

Tennant said he was disappointed to hear a few people call the project an “experiment” and refer to the prospective tenants as “others.”

Guerra, a former Autism B.C. board member, said she sympathised with the needs of future tenants and still believes Harmony can be revived with less height fronting existing homes.

Tennant said Surrey’s affordable housing strategy is less accommodating than others.

“Surrey has never understood the spectrum of affordability includes this middle zone. Through this campaign we’ve educated a lot of people,” he said.

Couns. Steven Pettigrew, Jack Hundial, Brenda Locke and Linda Annis voted in favour of the project.

Meanwhile, council agreed to build thousands more condo units in the city centre.
IBI Group Architects, on behalf of Thind Properties, can now proceed with two high rises and a 12-storey rental tower at University Drive and 105A Avenue, near Gateway SkyTrain station. There will be 1,023 market units, consisting of 115 studios, 600 one-bedroom units and two- and three-bedroom units rounding out the remaining 306. Of those, 105 units are for rent under a 20-year agreement.

Both schools in the area (Woodward elementary and Kwantlen Park secondary) are well over capacity, with no immediate expansion plans.

The application states a Tier 2 community amenity charge (CAC) of $30/square foot will be paid for up-zoning the density. That works out to close to $20.8 million to pay for future needs such as community centres and pools. A $1,000 per unit fee is also charged to the market housing units for an affordable housing fund.

Council also approved two more condo towers, plus a 12-storey unit at 9525 King George Boulevard, across from the hospital and near King George SkyTrain station. WestStone Group will pay the same Tier 2 CAC fee and affordable housing charge. This project is slightly smaller, with 932 units but no rentals. Of those, only 14 units have three bedrooms. The schools in the area are not at capacity.

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