Supporters and opponents alike will have a fresh opportunity to weigh in on an inclusive-housing project proposed for South Surrey.
Monday (June 28), on the recommendation of the city clerk, Surrey council voted to set a new public hearing regarding amendments sought to facilitate Harmony Apartments, a 91-unit, six-storey development proposed by UNITI – a partnership of Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and The Semiahmoo Foundation – and eyed for the southeast corner of property in the 15100-block of 20 Avenue.
The move was suggested after more than 100 people sent emails, correspondence and other communications to staff and council following an April 26 public hearing. It was held to hear feedback on an amendment bylaw that would enable realignment of a portion of the Semiahmoo Heritage Trail that currently runs through the subject site.
That hearing ended with council referring the application back to staff to address concerns that were expressed by speakers, many of whom spoke to issues other than the trail alignment – including parking, traffic and height. Following a review that resulted in minor revisions, June 28 was set for council to vote on a staff recommendation to move the project – which a report noted would realize “significant public benefit” – forward.
However, after reading the clerk’s recommendation, Mayor Doug McCallum said the correspondence received after April 26 “sort of cancelled the public hearing, because new information came forward.”
Typically, after an item has gone to public hearing, “there can be no further discussion with us, council, on the reasons for sending it back,” he said.
“It would have to be done by our staff,” he continued.
“In this case, many of us were contacted many times on this project.”
UNITI chief executive officer Doug Tennant said Tuesday that he was surprised by the decision, but while the additional delay is frustrating, ultimately, there may be a silver lining or two – one of those being potential savings on construction costs, should the price of lumber drop in the coming months, and the other being an opportunity to “really rally the troops” in support of the project ahead of the July 26 hearing.
The purpose-built housing is desperately needed in South Surrey, he said. Of the 91 units, 25-30 would be occupied by people with intellectual disabilities or an acquired brain injury; the balance would offer rents that were either geared to income or “close to market.”
During South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce’s June 29 ‘chamber chat,’ Tennant urged chamber members to send letters and emails, and to register to speak at the public hearing, “so there is a tsunami of support for Harmony and there will be no way council can turn it down.”
Neil Floyd, who lives on 20 Avenue, across the street from where Harmony is proposed to be built, said he, too, is grateful for another opportunity to have council’s ear. Planning to speak once more in opposition to the project, Floyd noted he and his neighbours are not opposed to the type of housing UNITI is seeking to provide, but feel the proposed site is the wrong place for a six-storey apartment building.
Floyd said he plans to hold McCallum to comments the mayor made at the April 26 public hearing, when he expressed a similar sentiment:
“We have affordable housing that we’re building, but we still need more,” McCallum said. “But I think this project, at least at this stage, is in the wrong location for that type of housing.”
“I was very relieved to hear him say that,” Floyd said Tuesday.
Tennant said the delay means UNITI is now “hopeful” groundbreaking on Harmony can happen next spring, rather than its last-anticipated start date of this coming September.
If things don’t go as hoped at next month’s hearing, Tennant said UNITI could choose to sell the property and take the project to another municipality. He emphasized, however, that that option is “unlikely.”
“If we can’t build housing that’s needed in South Surrey to achieve the ends of our organization and make best use of our properties in terms of the value to the community with this desperate need for housing for people with disabilities and others, then all cards are on the table,” he said.