Changes to the configuration of a proposed residential highrise/arts amenity project planned for 152 Street and 19 Avenue seem to have had little effect on attitudes both for and against the idea.
The second public-information meeting, held Dec. 4 at Bayridge Elementary School gym, drew some 65 people – about a third of those who attended the first meeting in October.
For architect Patrick Cotter, who is designing the two-tower proposal for co-developers the Reifel Cooke Group and the Surrey City Development Corporation, it was a chance to answer questions about the scope and scale of the project, which would also provide the shell for a 350-seat theatre/performing-arts space and a contemporary arts café and gallery.
Now, at its highest point, the project would reach the equivalent of 27 storeys above ground level, as opposed to the equivalent of 30 storeys being advanced in October.
But it was clear this was not enough to change the mind of those, like David Cann, president of the Semiahmoo Residents Association, who oppose any development higher than four storeys in the Semiahmoo Town Centre and have concerns over traffic, access and parking in the vicinity of the proposed project.
Looking at plans on display boards prior to Cotter’s presentation, Cann said he supposed the changes were more “esthetic” than anything else, and would not address fundamental concerns with highrise development in the area.
“We’re surely not going to be (affected) if they move one or two storeys up or down,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Facebook page called Semiahmoo Residents Against Tower Development has been created to provide a public forum and share news of the project.
Neighbourhood resident Kristen Smith, who posted a link to the page on the Peace Arch News Facebook timeline, said a public hearing on the project could be held as soon as January (city staff said after Peace Arch News deadline that the public hearing could not be scheduled as soon as that).
However Cotter acknowledged prior to his presentation that the proposal is well along in the development process, with a rezoning application already submitted and already being reviewed by Surrey’s Planning and Development department.
First and second reading for the bylaw could be expected “early next year,” he said, and if passed would be soon followed by a public hearing (target date is Feb. 3, provided first and second readings pass, according to Cotter Architects staff).
Cotter said the city will move the project forward with a general development permit, before a detailed development permit is submitted, to assess the level of support for the overall concept, noting the process represents a “considerable investment of time.”
“This will provide the community and business team with some security on the basics, before getting into the specifics.”
Cotter acknowledged changes in the shape of the buildings were largely “variations in the tower forms” that did not reduce the overall amount of space allotted to residential units (the number currently proposed is 328, subject to refinement of floor plans).
“Instead of being brother and sister (towers) they’re now more like cousins,” he said.
But, Cotter said, other changes include increased building setbacks and repositioning of the major loading area at the north end of the plan, and a response to resident feedback that neighbourhood traffic and access issues need to be addressed.
Along with the development, the intention is to upgrade pedestrian signals at 19 Avenue and 152 Street, improve access and egress at 20 Avenue and 152A Street, widen 152 street for transit-only lanes and continue 152A Street, while providing an additional lane.
In his presentation, Cotter noted the project is in keeping with a May 2012 City of Surrey interim land use and density concept for Semiahmoo Town Centre that would permit highrises, and a provision in the town centre plan that allows buildings over 20 storeys at a limited number of ‘landmark” sites along the 152 Street corridor – provided amenity contributions support cultural goals for the area.
The development partners would provide only shells for the performing arts centre and contemporary arts cafe and gallery, he added, while design, finishing and governance of these spaces would be in the hands of the city.
Order of Canada recipient George Zukerman, founder of the White Rock Concerts subscription series, was among those viewing the plans with interest – particularly the performing arts component.
Zukerman, who noted he is not opposed to highrises, said the gallery space in the plan would be “a worthwhile addition to our community’s total resources,” although he would like to see even more performing arts space in South Surrey.
“I wish it could be 850 seats – 1,000 would be even better,” he said, “but I don’t want to knock anything. I’m sure it will be a wonderful space, and I’m sure there will be lots of groups who will have use for it.”