David Cann at Semiahmoo shopping centre.

Spectre of South Surrey highrise plan still looms

Residents group voices concern over what councillor calls administrative review

The recent decision to update the Semiahmoo Town Centre plan will reopen the debate over housing density in South Surrey, a local community activist predicts.

However, a Surrey councillor who cast his vote for an interim overhaul of building-size limits for the area around the shopping mall describes it as an administrative matter, nothing more.

Semiahmoo Residents Association president David Cann is concerned about a May 28 Surrey city council vote that approved an interim land use and density concept plan for the land around the area of 152 Street and 16 Avenue until a local area plan has been finalized.

Cann views the interim plan as a slightly modified version of a controversial 2008 proposal that would have added six highrise towers – with heights up to 36 storeys – to the shopping-centre site. That plan was withdrawn by the then-owners of the shopping centre after the global economy fell into a recession.

Cann complains the new plan, as approved by council, could allow up to three towers of substantially more than 20 storeys with other buildings that together would create an overall density greater than the 2008 proposal.

“It changes it, if you like, to make it worse,” Cann said, shortly after city council voted unanimously to approve the temporary new development guidelines for the area.

Cann said local residents are no more inclined to support towers for the area than they were in 2008.

“There is a pretty strong feeling in this area against highrises,’ Cann said.

As endorsed by the mayor and council, the city staff report sets out an interim “land use and density concept,” “transportation concept,” “urban design concept,” “building height and massing concept,” and a “parks, recreation and community amenity concept.”

The interim guidelines boost the allowable maximum size because, the report argues, the rising price of land has made the lower densities proposed in 2008 “insufficient” to make construction worthwhile for developers.

Coun. Marvin Hunt, who made the motion that Surrey council approve the interim Semiahmoo plan, said taller buildings and higher density make sense for the area, especially considering the fact taller buildings have been approved nearby in White Rock.

Hunt said the passing of interim density regulations pending a final plan for the area represents a bid to “finish off the process” that was interrupted in 2008 when the developer withdrew the specific proposal to build the six towers.

“It’s much more an administrative review.” Hunt told PAN.

Hunt added the city has no proposals on the books right now to construct highrises on the Semiahmoo site.

“There’s nothing.”

According to Cann, the absence of specific proposals means the city can develop a much higher density plan for the area without having to listen to residents, who will have to wait until someone applies to actually build something before they get a public hearing.

And by then, Cann said, the new limits will already have been approved.

“Where is the infrastructure, roads, hospitals and the like to support this increase in population?” Cann said.

“It also opens the door to other high-density development (outside the plan area).”

The land covered by the new density plan includes city-owned property to the north of the mall, land Hunt said was originally acquired for a city library that was not used because one was built on the nearby site of a former firehall.

Cann is unhappy the city has added its own property to the planning area, saying it means council will face the temptation of upping density to increase the amount of revenue the city can realize from selling its site.

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