SURREY — Traffic, traffic and more traffic — then throw in some unsafe road conditions.
That’s what some residents in Surrey’s East Panorama neighbourhood south of Highway 10 worry their community is in for after council gave the green light to a controversial Village Church development for the second time.
The proposal to build 36 townhouses and a large worship centre on a 9.7-acre property at 14876 and 14844 Highway 10 received approval from Surrey council last April but that has since been rescinded.
The proposal was back at public hearing on Monday (April 9).
The issue stemmed from a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure study that said 148th Street access from the development would be required. The elimination of the street would result in “adverse impacts to the impacts to the intersection of Highway 10 at 152nd Street,” according to the ministry. It was also deemed necessary to “protect the mobility of regional traffic.”
The problem was, Surrey council had given the application third reading on April 24, 2017 on the condition that 148th Street access be removed from the plan in an effort to reduce traffic there.
After Monday’s lengthy hearing — which saw impassioned pleas from supporters and opponents of the project — council voted to let the proposal move ahead. But the green light was on the condition that a good neighbour agreement and traffic mitigation strategy be completed, along with a reworking of the Highway 10 and 148th Street intersection to improve safety and sight lines.
The only councillor who opposed the project’s third reading was Tom Gill, citing concerns about the townhouse component of the application.
Karl Rulofs, president of East Panorama Ridge Community Association, said the main issue— aside from the fact the “vast majority” of the community believes the development is too dense for the single-family home neighbourhood — is unsafe road conditions.
During the public hearing at city hall, Rulofs showed short video clips of the road safety concerns, which he said would be exacerbated by the inevitable increase in traffic from the new homes and parishioners visiting the church.
The videos, which were screened after the clerk’s office had difficulty locating them, show what Rulofs described as an “invisible hump” when crossing Highway 10 from 148th Street. They also aimed to show the sightlines, or lack thereof, for drivers turning left onto the highway from either direction on 148th Street.
“You’ll notice the cars coming southbound disappear completely once they go over this hump. It’s gone completely,” Rulofs said.
“That was pretty real,” said Mayor Linda Hepner while the videos were screened, after two vehicles came close to a crash.
While Rulofs is happy a traffic study has been initiated, he said he eagerly awaits a viable solution.
“I can just picture 500 cars trying to get out (of the church),” said Rulofs, who lives 200 metres away and across the road from the proposed site, “and they only have 20 minutes between services.”
Rulofs stressed the community association isn’t against the church, but rather is “against the church at this location.”
Village Church Pastor Mark Clark, among other church members, made a plea to Surrey council before the Monday night vote.
“We started out as 16 people in my house, in my townhouse, which is in Surrey,” he told councillors. “It has since grown to 5,000 or 6,000 people. Most of those are Surrey residents.”
Since its creation, the church hasn’t had a home, Clark added.
“We rent everything. We’re very vulnerable in that way,” he said. “Our people have come together and shown their heart in the last seven months and raised $10.3 million to buy this property so we can then go on and raise more money to put a $20-million building on it. We’ve done all that work… to be able to put something here that’s going to bless the city and actually build a legacy for the city.”
Clark urged council to look past traffic concerns.
“All of those things are worth figuring out traffic stops, signals, roads, speeds,” he said. “This is not the first time a church has been built in a residential area. There’s a lot of smart people working on these problems and we will figure it out.”
Architect Patrick Cotter spoke to council on behalf of the church. Cotter indicated an intention to regrade the intersection at 148th Street and Highway 10, to deal with the issues shown in Rulofs’ videos.
In voicing her approval for the project, Linda Hepner said she is concerned about the visibility on 148th Street and asked for a report back on what that would look like in a “better engineered situation.”
She also asked that parishioners to be discouraged to use the 148th Street church exit and instead access the site from 54A Avenue via 152nd Street. And, that a gate at 144A Street and King George Boulevard be closed, as had previously been promised to area residents but never happened, to reduce traffic in the neighbourhood.
Councillor Judy Villeneuve also expressed concern about safety at the 148th Street intersection, in what she called a “very dangerous situation.”
Councillor Mary Martin said the church does “good work” and noted part of the project would “provide the city a great amenity for performing arts, so absolutely I’m supporting it.”