A South Surrey application to build 22 townhouses on four lots in the 15900-block of 16 Avenue was referred back to city staff last week following a public hearing at which council heard allegations that a tree-permit application had been forged.
In making a motion Feb. 19 to refer the application back – which council voted 5-2 in favour of doing – Coun. Bruce Hayne said he couldn’t make a decision without knowing more.
“I think we need clarity around this issue,” Hayne said. “There’s been a serious allegation made in these chambers tonight about an application and I’m just not comfortable moving forward with it while there is those kind of serious allegations surrounding it.”
Earlier in the evening, Marlene Randall, a neighbour of the site eyed for development, told council that city staff had asked her and her husband on Feb. 16 to confirm that her husband had signed a tree-cutting permit application that had been received at city hall on Jan. 31 regarding three mature trees on their property.
The request came one week after the couple had visited city hall and received assurances they were under no obligation to give anyone permission to cut the trees, she said.
“We… thought we had put all this to rest,” Randall told council.
“I can assure you that the property owner’s signature is not that of my husband. In fact, it doesn’t even look like his signature.”
Questioned by Coun. Dave Woods, city planning staff confirmed they did not recognize the name of the applicant on the tree-cutting permit request; as well, that the permit had been rescinded after it was determined that the development could proceed without impacting the trees in question.
Hayne asked staff if the decision “had anything to do with the RCMP investigation or any kind of knowledge of a substantial fraud?”
“The issue just became known late last week,” the planner responded. “We understand that the RCMP is involved, but at this point, that’s beyond the scope of the subject application.”
Councillors supporting Hayne’s referral motion agreed the allegations needed to be clarified. Those opposed – Couns. Mary Martin and Dave Woods – also cited a lack of public consultation.
The applicant had requested an amendment to the city’s Official Community Plan and rezoning for the site, as well as a development variance permit to reduce minimum setbacks along all sides of the development.
Mike Compter, agent for the developer, confirmed feedback from the public was not sought regarding the plan.
“(The developer) did not pursue the public-consultation process because there wasn’t much response” to a request for input regarding a similar project to the west by the same developer, Compter said.
“He felt that there wasn’t going to be any issue with this particular project,” he added.
Randall, however, said that in addition to the tree matter, she has concerns that it “has been designed with the assumption that they will eventually be adding our property” and that “considerable setback variances” were being sought.
“The closer you allow them to build their three-storey townhouse complex to our fence, the more comfort, privacy, trees and property value we’ll lose,” she said.
Alderwood resident Wendy Cooper named the increased density to 30 units-per-acre from 10 as an issue, and said that if the change is anticipated for surrounding sites in the future, “then you need to go out and do a proper planning exercise to determine if this appropriate for the neighbourhood.”
She asked council to table the application pending a plan “where all neighbours can get involved.”
Asked by Coun. Tom Gill what kind of densities Cooper envisioned for the neighbourhood – which Gill noted is near other significant-density neighbourhoods as well as a major transportation thoroughfare – she said “ones in which the community as a whole is happy with, which would be a community planning project.”
Citing Randall’s concern with the project’s proximity to her property, Compter told council no building would be closer than 7.5 metres. Also, that the proposed development does not max out the density sought.
“Some of the comments made tonight, I just don’t find justified,” he said.
In voting against Hayne’s motion, Martin described the alleged fraud as “an audacity.” Combined with the lack of public consultation and OCP amendment request, “there’s just too many negatives for me,” she said.
Woods said the lack of consultation “is a great concern to me.”
Hayne’s motion included for city staff to relook at the setback sought for the development’s west side and for assurance that completion of a lane on that same side isn’t necessary.