Surrey city council has approved a controversial development at a Fleetwood golf course.
The decision was made Tuesday night in a 6-2 vote, with Mayor Linda Hepner and Councillor Tom Gill opposed, and Councillor Judy Villeneuve absent due to an injury.
The approval came after a public hearing that lasted eight hours over Monday and Tuesday night, with approximately 80 people speaking to council, both in favour and against.
Anthem Properties Group is behind the proposal seeking to turn a portion of Eaglequest Surrey Coyote Creek golf course into 325 homes.
Proposed is a mixed-use development at 7778, 7858 and 7902 152nd Street. The project includes 60 rental apartments, 46 duplexes and 219 townhouses, as well as an amenity building and about 4,000 square feet of retail space that includes new daycare spots.
The project requires an Official Community Plan amendment of a portion of the property from Suburban and Agricultural to Multiple Residential, as well as rezoning of part of the property and a development permit.
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Standing room only at Surrey City Council during a public hearing on Monday night for a controversial development at Eaglequest Coyote Creek golf course. (Photo: Amy Reid)
First to speak from city council Tuesday night was Councillor Tom Gill, who began by saying “rezoning is a privilege, it’s not a right.”
“Based upon what I’ve seen over the last two nights, I’m not in a position to be able to support an application that has upwards of 3,000 people that have concerns,” he said Tuesday night.
He said there was an “opportunity” to work with the community to find a better fit.
Councillor Bruce Hayne said he’d heard many “pros and cons” and that there are clearly passionate opinions on both sides of the argument.
The mix of housing in the project, which includes rental units as well as some to be rented below market value, was a positive benefit to the city, he added, but noted many area residents were clearly opposed.
“There’s no question that infrastructure in our community is stretched, and while we don’t specifically have the ability to build schools or to build hospitals or some of the major road networks, even, we have to hold our provincial counterparts’ feet to the fire and ensure they do,” Hayne said.
He noted many school teachers voiced opposition to the project due to overcrowding, and urged them to work with the Surrey Teachers’ Association and the BCTF as well as the district to “push for the elimination of portables and the building of more schools, as we are constantly doing that as well.”
Hayne said two of the things “tipping” his opinion is the endorsements from two of Surrey’s most passionate environmental stewards, referring to South Surrey’s Sybil Rowe and Deb Jack, president of Surrey Environmental partners.
“Both of them liked what they saw,” Hayne noted.
Councillor Dave Woods also spoke of the “huge need” for purpose-built rental and below-market rental housing.
“This is the first proposal that I’m aware of in the city that’s going to do that, and I think that’s a big benefit,” said Woods.
During the hearing, council heard the Eaglequest golf course was struggling financially.
Woods said all of Surrey’s golf courses “are in trouble” and while he doesn’t know if Eaglequest will be able to make a go of it due to reconfiguring as a result of this development, but said he’s happy to hear the clubhouse will receive much-needed upgrades.
While Woods has opposed other developments due to school overcrowding, he said the schools in this Fleetwood area, when compared to other communities such as South Newton and Grandview, “are not at all seriously overtaxed.”
Councillor Vera LeFranc said she was disappointed to see the “Save our parkland” messaging used in the oppositions’ campaign, seeing as this was currently privately-owned land.
“I think that really undermined that campaign and was problematic for me in my deliberation.”
LeFranc said the mix of housing was a positive.
“Actually having city-owned parkland that’s accessible to all city residents is critically important. Green space is not the same thing as parks, and I think it’s pretty clear that’s what this is.”
Councillor Mary Martin praised the project’s rental units, affordable daycare component, upgrades to the golf course’s clubhouse and environmental benefits, including the riparian area and replanting of trees.
“Quite frankly, we are a growing city,” said Martin. “We’ve gone from a suburb to a growing centre. I’d rather see areas developed by a reputable developer, and proposals that are well-planned and well thought out.”
Councillor Barbara Steele said she likes the project’s mixed housing options.
“This is a perfect example of what to do in a growing city, and how to meet the regional growth strategy,” she said of the project.
“It’s absolutely bang on.”
Steele noted some residents said they attempted to meet with the school board regarding this application, but were denied.
She said trustees have since assured her that in the future, they would entertain such meeting requests.
Mayor Linda Hepner, who spoke last, praised Anthem as “one of the best developers we have in this city.”
But Hepner said she couldn’t support this application due to a single principle: “The common good.”
“When I look at the common good, it was very difficult in the Hawthorne Park decision (to build a road through the park as part of a connector road) we had recently. We hear about it every single public hearing: That this is a council that likes to take things down and not build things up. It’s so erroneous that it’s actually hurtful… I made that decision and I believe my colleagues did as well, for the common good. We needed to do something relative to transportation in this city.”
This project, she noted, was a private application by an individual who wanted to do something in a strained economic environment for the business.
“I appreciate that but I don’t believe the city is in the business of saving businesses… I want it to thrive but (it) can’t be the Bombardier of Surrey. I am not in support of this project at this time. I think it’s a great project. I think it has good legs for down the road, but I’m not going to support it tonight.”
After the meeting, Hepner told the Now-Leader that “it was a matter of timing.”
Hepner said she would have liked to see rapid transit operational before approving a project of this density in this location.
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In all, 57 people signed up at the meeting in support of the proposal who didn’t wish to speak, and 56 in support who intended to speak.
In opposition, there were 121 people signed up not wishing to speak and 23 who wanted to speak against it. One person who was in opposition, Hepner noted, represented a petition of more than 2,800 signatures.
Opponents say the proposal does not respect the need to reduce school overcrowding, recognize the “major traffic problems,” adhere to the official community plan, protect the Fleetwood Habitat Corridor, account for additional pressures on medical and emergency services and value the benefits of recreational greenspace for future generations.
Longtime Fleetwood resident Fred Kubosek told city council he was “shocked” when visiting the first public consultation meeting held by the developer.
“In my opinion, this is a master disaster. Did we learn nothing from Clayton Heights?” Kubosek said the course if one of the “few green spaces left in the Fleetwood neighbourhood.”
Applause erupted after he added it’s not the developer’s business to “tell us what’s good for the Fleetwood neighbourhood at large.”
“You’ve heard loud and clear how the community feels about this…. What more can we do?”
“I believe this is a watershed moment in Surrey,” said Kubosek. “There’s great concern about both the loss of habitat and greenspace…. We’re not a group against development but a group with community in mind.”
He told council: “You must stop this development.”
Another longtime resident John McKitrick, who lives next to the golf course, urged city council to reject the Anthem proposal.
The retired newsman told councillors he bought his home based on the OCP, and the assurance such a dense project would not materialize.
“Does this send a signal to other Surrey golf courses that their courses are in play for high density housing development?…. Keep the legacy for our children, our grandchildren, all the people of Surrey…. What will your legacy be? Will you be remembered for the preservation of parks and recreation or for taking the very first step for its destruction?”
McKitrick said “let’s be clear about this, we’re not against more housing development. In fact, we strongly support Surrey’s march to status as the largest community in B.C.”
Wendy Davidoff, with the Coyote Creek Action Committee against the proposal, said the developer hasn’t adequately consulted with residents.
“At no time did Anthem ever try to engage the broader community – the one to two kilometre radius around the development… So we did.”
Davidoff said the opposition created an online presence, mailers and flyers, and then engaged the community directly.
“We went door to door,” she told council, adding, “overwhelmingly, (they) were not in favour of this development.”
Davidoff said the team knocked on over 700 doors and talked to people personally, and that 99 per cent of people they spoke to had concerns.
“We are in a David and Goliath situation here,” said Davidoff. “Basically we brought a knife to a gun fight.”
She urged council to let the city get “ahead of the curve for school infrastructure.”
“You are our voice,” she added. “You have our backs. It is your job to represent us as the citizens of Surrey…. At the end of the day, our comment is that we want to follow the OCP.”
Meantime, several local residents spoke in favour of the project, expressing the need for accepting density in a growing suburban neighbourhood as well as the need to densify due to rising home costs.
One resident called it an “oasis,” another referred to the proposal as “brilliantly designed.”
Anne Peterson with Surrey Board of Trade spoke in support of Anthem development. “We recognize that the owners are desiring to improve their facilities and become a better facility for the Surrey public,” said Peterson. “We respect that.”
Peterson also spoke of traffic upgrades as part of the development, and the need in Surrey for affordable housing.
“We take requests for support very seriously,” she said. “Such requests are reviewed by our team members and be in line with our policies,” she added, pointing to a continuum of housing options for young families, new childcare spaces, livable streetscapes and more.
Fleetwood BIA director Dean Barbour also spoke in favour of the project.
Doug Peat, representing SurreyCares Foundation, pointed to the organization’s Vital Signs report. He noted this survey revealed a need for rental housing, an increase in park spaces, subsidized housing as well as more daycare spaces — all of which the development proposal offered.
“A dedicated space for daycare, so needed in our community,” said Peat. “Dedicated rental housing. So needed. So desperately needed.”
At the public hearing, the owner of the golf course spoke to council and explained the financial situation is currently “pretty dire.”
City council heard that Eaglequest’s golf revenues were $700,000 in 2007 and that dropped to $350,000 in 2017. The company explained the business would not exist today if it was not able to be sustained by outside finances.
If the proposal went ahead, the course would turn into a nine- or 12-hole operation, and it would mean a redesigned clubhouse as well as recreational spaces to be used not just by golfers but also for yoga and spin classes.
Without the project moving forward, the company would likely sell the land.
Steve Forrest, vice president of development for Anthem Properties, told council he’s a longtime resident of Surrey.
“I do care about the legacy I leave behind for my children,” said Forrest.
He told council the company has conducted “extensive” consultation, via three public meetings as well as conversations, phone calls and emails.
Forrest also spoke of the late Rick Hart, who was referred to as the Mayor of Fleetwood for his advocacy in the community.
“He liked and endorsed what we were doing,” said Forrest.
Ahead of the public hearing, Randene Neill with Anthem Properties also said the development company has consulted with neighbours and area residents for the past two years, “listening and acting on their suggestion.”
Neill said Anthem has made changes in response to their concerns, which are outlined on a website created by the developer, at coyotecreekdevelopment.ca.
The website states community consultation has resulted in the developer reducing the project’s density by 61 units, expanding the parkland within the proposal, an increased green buffer for neighbours and a reduction in apartment height from five storeys to four.
The project includes five acres of new public parkland to replace golf course land and a network of dedicated public trails.
Sixty rental apartments are proposed and the developer says five per cent of those will be rented at 20 per cent below market value.
The proposal also includes daycare, retail and a “rejuvenated” golf course and clubhouse.
A 77th Avenue extension is proposed to help “relieve local traffic patterns” and improve road safety, according to the website.
As for school overcapacity concerns, the developer’s website notes $13 million is earmarked to add 365 seats in Fleetwood schools.
The last time city council had to adjourn a public hearing because of the high number of speakers was in 2013, when Surrey was considering an application for a South Surrey casino.