A campaign is underway to try to “turn around” a plan that opponents say threatens White Rock’s longtime Catholic presence – the sale of the Star of the Sea Parish site in Five Corners.
“We didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” said Hans Staals, a longtime member of the Star of the Sea’s Knights of Columbus ministry, of a parish master plan to dispose of the property – along with the Holy Cross Church site in Crescent Beach – to generate funds to centralize the parish at an expanded Good Shepherd complex in South Surrey.
“There’s no real rhyme or reason to close the church. (And) to do away with that hall, that’s a major impact.”
But officials with the parish – which includes the Good Shepherd Church on 150 Street, Holy Cross Church on Beecher Street and Star of the Sea Church and community hall on Pacific Avenue – said plans for the Good Shepherd expansion have been in the works for three years, and will enable the parish to better-serve the community moving forward.
“We’re trying to put most of our eggs in the basket of a new centre that will serve generations to come,” Father Glenn Dion told Peace Arch News Wednesday.
Dion said he inherited the mandate when he took over as pastor of the parish two years ago. Consideration of the cost to seismically upgrade the White Rock buildings weighed heavily in the decision to amalgamate, he said.
According to a fact sheet posted to the parish website (www.starofthesea.ca), the Archbishop gave approval to sell the four-lot Crescent Beach site in mid-2015, and negotiations are currently underway.
Disposal of the White Rock property was approved earlier this year – initially on the condition a church presence in the city be maintained. That condition was removed in May, and the site is expected to be listed for sale next spring.
The master plan vision – with a conservative cost estimate of $13 million – is for a Parish Centre on four acres adjacent to the Good Shepherd Church, with the hope construction can get underway in about a year.
While Dion said opponents to the vision didn’t take advantage of opportunities for input early in the process, Staals and fellow Knights Jim Garnett and Ron Johnston said two years have been invested in coming up with a redevelopment proposal that would both maintain the White Rock presence and benefit the parish vision. It includes replacing the aging church and community hall with a multi-purpose facility that would house the church, a community centre, conference facilities, retail space and residential condominium units.
Revenue from leases and housing – an estimated $5-6 million – would be donated back to the parish, Staals said.
“We’ve done the numbers, we’ve worked with a developer, we’ve looked at it to see that it’s feasible,” he said. “It would be a really interesting and really nice setup if we would get the go-ahead.
“But they don’t seem to want to entertain the idea. They seem to be pretty well set on disposing of the site.”
Garnett said arguments that the projected population growth in White Rock also doesn’t support staying in the city are weak. Pointing to highrise proposals that are before the city, Garnett said attendance at Star of the Sea Church – currently averaging 200 people per mass – has been on the rise “and will continue to grow as the population of White Rock grows.”
“Somewhere along the way, the importance of the church in the centre of the community (has) got lost,” he said. “Rather than remove assets… we want to be able to replace those things (and) pass the legacy forward.”
In an effort to boost awareness of the issue and their proposal, the Knights have launched an online petition at sosknights.ca, and hope the public will support it. They also hope to have their concerns heard by top church officials.
Dion, noting the Knights are “not in harmony” with the parish, said Archdiocese protocols prevent him from entertaining any proposals for the White Rock site, including from within the parish family, until it is on the market.
The Knights, he said, have “been asked to bide their time.”
He disagreed that moving out of White Rock would impact the local Catholic presence.
“There’s a Catholic church 2.7 miles away. It’s not as if we’re not present,” he said.
Regarding the Holy Cross site, City of Surrey officials confirmed Wednesday that there is a strong interest in protecting the church building, which is on the city’s heritage register. Don Luymes, the city’s manager of community planning, told PAN that negotiating that would get underway following any development applications for the site that include a request for rezoning.