Members of the Semiahmoo Residents Association are requesting that the City of Surrey delay its plan for the Semiahmoo Town Centre because residents are “just realizing what’s going on.”
The plan, which is an update of the city’s 2012 plan, sets up for concentrated development up to 24-storey towers in the Semiahmoo Shopping Centre property. The current plan, which was endorsed by council in 2012, allows tower height up to 36 storeys.
The city has been working on the new draft plan since last year. In that time, the city has held two workshops, three open houses and conducted four online surveys. This year, the city mailed approximately 18,000 letters advertising the open house events.
After Peace Arch News published an article outlining the plan last week, which is near its final form, the Semiahmoo Residents Association contacted PAN and wrote a letter to the city planning department with a number of concerns and requests.
In the letter, the SRA asked for the city to host a ‘town hall-style’ meeting; requested an extension to the closing date of an online survey; and asked for more time before the plan goes to council, which is planned before the new year.
The latter request, SRA wrote, is so that the organization can “hear from residents and evaluate their concerns about the policies in the plan, and discuss these with staff on their behalf.”
“Our experience have shown that there is more power in a group approach than an individual one.”
SRA members Rosaleen MacFadden, Rosemary Zelinka and Barbara Paton came to the PAN office Thursday to “amplify” their letter to the city.
One of the concerns was that the city’s plan lacks residential protection from overlooking and overshadowing.
“The SRA is still gathering information on these concerns, before taking a position on their merits,” the letter states.
The letter also takes issue with the city because some residents have become “frustrated” that public input opportunities have all been on a one-to-one basis, through online surveys or at open houses.
“There is considerable interest in holding a town hall-style meeting where residents can learn through the concerns of others, and there can be an open discussion on the pros and cons of the issue,” the letter states.
Zelinka said the organization wishes to hear from residents that live near the Semiahmoo Town Centre.
“We don’t want to be in a position of saying we don’t like things,” Zelinka said. “We are still hearing from people.”
City of Surrey community planning manager Patrick Klassen told PAN Thursday that the city decided on an open house-style consultation because the format supports in-depth, one-on-one conversations with residents.
“Open houses like that are really good at supporting direct resident interaction and they enable seldom-heard voices to participate by removing platforms for special interest groups or lobbying and so-forth. It really allows residents to ask questions, get answers, express their concerns and to have those conversations that are quite absent from other formats,” Klassen said.
Klassen said he offered to meet with SRA to hear their concerns – which the group confirmed to PAN – but he had not yet received a response.
Throughout the public engagement process, Klassen said, the SRA was “directly” invited to the open house events and an one-on-one stakeholder meeting.
“To date, the letter we received last week was the first formal letter we have received from them,” Klassen said.
Klassen said it’s important to note what changes the city has made from the 2012 Semiahmoo plan.
He noted that the city has scaled back the available area for highrises, brought down maximum building heights, provided clearer transition of density from the core to the rest of neighbourhood and added plans for future rapid bus service.