This sketch

Arts-towers vision revised

Artists and neighbours express different views of the plan for a multi-purpose residential highrise project proposed for South Surrey.

A second public-information meeting on a proposed residential towers-arts hub project for South Surrey put forward a new version, including a reduction in overall height and changes in building massing.

The meeting, at Bayridge Elementary gym Wednesday night (held after Peace Arch News’ press time), was hosted by Cotter Architects Inc., which is creating the design – proposed for 152 Street at 19 Avenue – for co-developers the Reifel Cooke Group and the Surrey City Development Corporation.

“This is very much a response to the first meeting,” marketing director Shawna Nickel said prior to the presentation, noting architect Patrick Cotter has been keen to reflect feedback from the previous showcase in October, which drew more than 180 people.

“He, and we, are big advocates of the public process,” she added.

Foremost in changes to the proposal is an adjustment of the heights of the two towers, from 26 and 19 storeys to 23 and 21 storeys, but Nickel noted this may not change public perception of the overall height due to previous confusion about the way the heights were calculated.

The height for the highest tower, as originally proposed, would have been 26 storeys on top of a commercial pedestal equivalent to four storeys, Nickel clarified, resulting in a height equivalent to 30 storeys from ground level.

The height, from ground level, of the highest tower in the newest version would now be 27 storeys including the pedestal. The other, free-standing tower would be 21 storeys from ground level.

Nickel said it was hoped this week’s meeting would address “a few of the common questions that came out either in one-on-one or group discussion.”

Meanwhile Wendy Bollard, artistic director of Peninsula Productions – one of the members of the arts community consulted during development of the plan – says she is convinced proposed cultural amenities, including a 350-seat performing arts centre and a contemporary arts centre cafe/gallery, are not simply window dressing for the project.

“Myself and Cora Li-Leger (representing the performing arts and contemporary visual arts, respectively) have been going to meetings for months with Patrick Cotter and city representatives,” Bollard said, noting a professional theatre architect was also consulted.

“I’m not sure why they would have gone to all that trouble if they were not sincere about the arts component.”

Both Bollard and Li-Leger said they feel their suggestions  – such as presenting the arts elements in different areas of the plan, to increase foot traffic – have been acted upon.

“We’re definitely being listened to, and I credit Coun. Judy Villeneuve (chair of Surrey’s cultural committee) for positive leadership in that way,” Li-Leger said.

Critics of the proposal – including David Cann, president of the Semiahmoo Residents’ Association – have said the height of the buildings will establish a dangerous precedent for light and view-blocking development in South Surrey, while the addition of so many residents will create a potentially huge problem with traffic congestion.

“With all the traffic, it’s going to be horrendous,” said Alice Chernochan, who lives in a condo across 19 Avenue from the proposed development.

She noted prior to the meeting that existing streets and access lanes in the area are already heavily used, while condo owners in the immediate area have invested heavily in upgrading the roofs of their buildings.

The last development proposal for the site she heard of was for a townhouse project with a maximum height of four storeys

“I don’t know what’s going to happen when they put in another 600 parking spaces, plus lots of other people coming into the area for these (arts) events,” she said. “I don’t understand how Surrey can justify putting in that much more traffic.”

While Li-Leger acknowledged any proposed highrises would be controversial, she said the project offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to design “a pretty significant cultural amenity – it’s not like just putting a piece of public art in your plaza.”

Bollard said that while she understands the resistance of some local residents to highrise development, others would seem to welcome a more city-like environment.

“Cities that have their their own arts spaces and cultural hubs bring up the value of people’s real estate around them,” she said.

Noting there is a shortage of performance space, Bollard said a key to the usefulness of performing-arts components is to provide a focus and a venue for local groups – particularly those that include youth.

Bollard suggested focusing on a model of theatre management built around a not-for-profit group, to make it financially accessible to local renters.

“I hope they’re not going to just build a theatre that turns into a roadhouse (venue for touring shows),” she said.

 

 

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