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On the hot seat: casino proponents jeered at forum
A sometimes-hostile crowd of around 300 people groaned and jeered at proponents of a casino in South Surrey during a public hearing organized by opponents of the $100 million project proposed for 10 Avenue and 168 Street.
The three-hour hearing was organized by the South Surrey Ratepayers Association which said the mayors of White Rock, Surrey and representatives of the casino and BCLC have been invited to attend.
Neither mayor showed, but BC Lottery Corporation's vice-president of casino and community gaming, Jim Lightbody and Gateway general counsel James Chen did attend, along with City of Surrey area planning manager Ron Hintsche.
Association president Terry McNeice repeatedly called for civility, telling the audience their indignation should be directed at Surrey Council.
"We are two meetings away from a casino," McNeice said.
"You have to take this up with your mayor and council members."
More than a dozen speakers took the podium to object to the proposed project, on grounds that ranged from concerns about traffic congestion and the potential for crime to the loss of farmland and the issue of compulsive gambling.
Among them was Margaret Woods, who took issue with Lightbody for using the word "myth" during a television interview to challenge claims about casino-related crime.
The word, Woods said, was "unfortunate." She said she remains convinced that a casino would hike crime despite all the claims to the contrary.
Another resident, Mike Steffen, said the project should be built in an industrial area, like other Lower Mainland casinos.
"I'm not particularly opposed to casinos, just the proposed area that it's in," Steffen said.
Ross Buchanan called the complex a "monster" that will destroy the neighbourhood where it's being built.
When Chen said feedback from a Gateway-organized forum showed more than half the respondents supported the project, there were scattered jeers and catcalls.
Lightbody got the same response when he said an independent study shows the crime rate was unaffected or dropped in four BC communities after casinos were built.
"We know we're not going to be the most popular guys in the room," Lightbody said.
Chen took issues with critics who complained the casino would be a tacky "Vegas-style" development, defending it as "tastefully designed."
Chen also objected to suggestions the casino was being rushed through the approval process.
"We are not taking any shortcuts," Chen said.
"No one should accuse us of that."
Hintsche noted the property in question was specifically zoned for the type of project Gateway is proposing.
He said all comments on the proposal would be referred to council prior to a Nov.26 land use committee meeting.
A review of the matter at the meeting will decide whether or not it is forwarded it to a Dec. 10 council meeting for final approval.
"Everything that is submitted to the city directly is being put in a package and will be going to council," Hintsche said.
He added the plans for the project have been changed to increase the size of the theatre and banquet facilities.
The preliminary designs called for a 60,000-sq.-ft. gaming floor, 800-seat theatre, 27,000-sq.-ft. convention and entertainment zone, a 200-room, four-star hotel, four restaurants and three lounges on 18 acres of a 25-acre site. BCLC has suggested the casino, if approved by the city, could be open as soon as late 2014.