City of Surrey graphic                                A planning report shows the layout proposed for independent school.

City of Surrey graphic A planning report shows the layout proposed for independent school.

Plan for new private school in South Surrey fails

Council rejects proposal, which also included nearly 400 townhouses

A plan to build an independent school and townhouses in South Surrey on 30 acres that were once eyed for a casino has failed.

But while proponents behind a Surrey campus of the Fraser Academy describe the news as both a surprise and disappointing, they also say they have not entirely given up on opening a site in the city.

“We are genuinely still hoping to have a campus in Surrey,” Maureen Steltman, head of school for Fraser Academy, told Peace Arch News Monday.

Surrey council voted 5-3 against third reading of the application on Monday evening, with Mayor Linda Hepner and Couns. Mike Starchuk and Tom Gill in favour, and Couns. Judy Villeneuve, Mary Martin, Vera LeFranc, Dave Woods and Barbara Steele opposed. Coun. Bruce Hayne was absent.

The project was proposed for six parcels of land bordered by 168 Street, Highway 99 and 12 Avenue – land that, in 2009, was proposed for a $100-million entertainment complex that included a casino. That initial proposal was eventually rejected in a split vote by council in 2013, following strong community opposition.

In discussing the latest proposal Monday, Villeneuve, Martin, LeFranc and Steele said it was premature. They took no issue with the school specifically, but expressed concerns that the proposal didn’t comply with city policies, plans and practices, and over a lack of infrastructure to support the new residents for nearly 400 townhouses.

“I think it’s a precedent-setting proposal that I don’t agree with and I don’t think we have the infrastructure in the area,” Villeneuve said.

Citing the area’s high ecological value, she encouraged a relook of the entire site.

“Right now, I think we should stay within the plans that we have and try to catch up with the infrastructure that’s needed in the area,” Villeneuve said.

At a public hearing last month, those who spoke in favour of the school – which Steltman noted is non-profit – lauded the difference the Vancouver location has made on the lives of their children, the jobs that would be created and the burden that would be eased for Surrey public schools.

Representatives for the proponent estimated that 248 students who need learning assistance would leave the public school system to enrol at the new, 400-seat Fraser Academy.

Concerns expressed at the public hearing included the potential impact to the Fergus Creek Biodiversity Preserve; and that commitments to things such as habitat mitigation would not be met.

In voicing his support for the development Monday, Starchuk described its residential component as “pretty much everything that we as council ask for,” and said that conversation around the Fraser Academy at the public hearing “got diluted into a certain point where people were concentrated on what the fees were to go to the school.”

Gill noted that city minutes indicate “upwards of 95 per cent” of the correspondence received – 112 of 118 submissions – was supportive.

Hepner said she was “very supportive” of the application, and that the school would bring “the kind of employment that we could assess as better.”

“I would remind everyone that (the subject site) has been identified as employment lands along that corridor for close to 20 years and we haven’t had any application for doing anything there other than a casino.”

The school, she said, “would have been a great service to the young families in Surrey.”

Steltman agreed.

“I think it’s much-needed,” she said, noting one-in-five children have trouble learning to read and write.

“We will continue to work with the developers. (But) I don’t know where else we would get the opportunity to get buildings and playing fields at no upfront cost to the school.”