Erika Yakemchuk, part-owner of Meridian Par 3 Golf, says Surrey council’s Nov. 6 decision to quash a townhouse/private school proposal for her neighbourhood was “ludicrous.” (Tracy Holmes photo)

Neighbours of failed private school plan ‘not happy’

Mayor says she was ‘astonished’ by councilmates’ rejection of South Surrey proposal

Neighbours of South Surrey acreage that was eyed for nearly 400 townhomes and an independent school for children with learning disabilities say they are “not very happy at all” with Surrey council’s decision to reject the proposal.

“We thought it would be good for the neighbourhood,” Cindy Sharp said of plans that included master-on-the-main townhouses and a 400-seat school on six parcels of land bordered by 168 Street, Highway 99 and 12 Avenue.

“It would’ve been lots of affordable housing. (And) there’s a need for this school.”

On Nov. 6, Surrey council voted 5-3 against third reading to the Fergus Creek Homes.

It followed overwhelming public support for the project – and was an outcome Mayor Linda Hepner said she was also surprised by.

“In fact, it’s astonishing to me… I have never seen a project that has that much support tank,” Hepner told Peace Arch News last week.

Councillors who opposed – Judy Villeneuve, Dave Woods, Vera LeFranc, Mary Martin and Barbara Steele – expressed concerns including that the proposal didn’t comply with city policies, and that infrastructure to support the new residents was lacking.

“There’s no amenities there, there’s no transportation, there’s no bank, there’s no grocery stores…” Martin said. “What about the hospitals? What is the impact on Peace Arch Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital with all these additional people that would be living there?”

The site, east of Highway 99, is the same one that, in 2013, was rejected for a $100-million entertainment complex that included a casino.

Sharp, who has lived across the street from that site for 20 years – on the Meridian Golf Par 3 grounds – said she took an active interest in the latest application.

“I honestly went to no meetings when they were talking about putting the casino in,” Sharp said. “I didn’t think my opinion mattered – they were going to do it if they were going to do it.

“This time I thought, if there’s something that was important, that I would actually get involved.”

In addition to providing needed housing and a school, she said, she felt the development would address issues with squatters, theft and safety.

At a public hearing last month, Sharp was among more than two dozen people who spoke, the majority in favour. Of 118 written comments received, 112 were in favour.

Former Semiahmoo First Nation chief Willard Cook weighed in, citing positive benefits for “our nation and our people,” including “an excellent education opportunity for future generations.”

He noted that SFN stood to potentially benefit economically if a bid through the band’s recently announced joint partnership with Tybo Contracting Ltd. had been successful for civil works for the project.

As well, the developer committed to $7,500 for future tuitions for SFN children at Fraser Academy, and $10,000 for emergency response, Cook said.

“In a perfect world, we would have liked to have seen these lands purchased by the city and returned to Fergus Creek Watershed, but still support this use conditionally,” Cook said.

Sharp’s mother, Erika Yakemchuk, part-owner of the golf course, also spoke.

She told PAN council’s decision was “totally ludicrous.” The developer, she said, did “way more than they had to do,” with regard to sensitivity around Fergus Creek.

“Every neighbour that I spoke to… we were all for it,” Yakemchuk said, noting neighbours are now concerned the land will be used for less desirable purposes, such as a truck park.

“We don’t want commercial or industrial,” she said.

But while Hepner told PAN that “anything under the umbrella of light industry” could be proposed, she “can’t imagine” the site being approved for a truck park.

“If the council is not approving a high-end learning academy and residential, I can’t imagine how many hands would be going up for a truck park near Fergus Creek,” she said.

Hepner said public support for the proposed development “cemented to me that this was a good project.” She said she felt it was “a chance for us to do something that I thought was complementary both with what the neighbours wanted, and to really advantage those in Surrey that need some help.”

“I just thought it was a good balance of what was possible on that land.”

Sharp said that for her, council’s rejection despite overwhelming support begs the question of why citizen input was sought.

“It just proves, what’s the point of going if they’re not going to listen anyway? If they would’ve listened, they would’ve come up with something different,” she said. “Why would I sit there from 6-11 (p.m.)… thinking what I had to say was important? All that time, and it was kind of for nothing. That’s kind of how I feel.

“For everybody to be in favour of it, it seemed really strange that council would just totally disregard any of the opinions about it.”

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