COLUMN: Shift in councils beginning to show

Major shifts on both Surrey and White Rock councils, demanded by voters in October when they threw out almost all the incumbents, are starting to show.

The most obvious pieces of evidence are changes in dealing with development.

In Surrey, development has been the dominant topic for city staff and council for generations. Development is the major driver of the Surrey economy. It has meant ongoing major challenges with infrastructure and services, and this in turn has put pressure on many residents and the overall community.

In White Rock, the previous council expanded the area in which highrise projects could be developed, and approved a significant number of such projects. This prompted a significant backlash.

White Rock’s new council has acted quickly to bring in change. The Official Community Plan passed in 2017 is under review. One highrise project already approved is under special study and could be reduced in height. Council voted Feb. 14 to expand the OCP review to include the downtown core.

A public hearing on the project under study, on the 1300 block of Johnston Road, will take place March 11.

In Surrey, even slowing down the development train is a huge challenge.

However, one step in that direction is to consider the effect development has on schools. For many years, council has received information with development applications on the number of students expected to come from new housing projects. These numbers have often seemed quite low to outside observers, but council has at least had the information.

Mayor Doug McCallum, who in his earlier stint as Surrey mayor headed the pro-development Surrey Electors Team council, campaigned on slowing development to allow for better co-ordination of services, notably expansion of schools, hospitals and transit. The Safe Surrey Coalition, which he heads, won eight council seats.

Council has instructed staff to go back to developers with projects in the pipeline, in areas where schools are badly overcrowded, and request phasing. This would keep pace with school construction.

The previous council acknowledged that school construction wasn’t keeping up with development, but took no action to actually slow down development.

At Monday night’s public hearing, two development projects in the fast-growing Clayton area were presented as being developed in phases “to align with the completion of two new local elementary schools.” For Surrey, such an approach is unprecedented. It is long overdue.

The two projects would create 262 townhouses and an additional 71 apartments.

Obviously, that would mean a number of children attending local schools. One project is to be developed in three phases, the other in four.

Interestingly enough, council also held a public hearing for a proposed development in Fleetwood, on part of the Green Tree Estates mobile home park. It calls for 426 apartments to be built, in five separate buildings. There is no mention of phasing with this development, perhaps because fewer children are expected from the apartments and school overcrowding is less of an issue in the area.

Both councils are responding to genuine concerns from residents in their respective cities, and taking a much-needed closer look at the impact of development on neighbourhoods.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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