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Woods, Villeneuve top opposition on Surrey council

The two councillors have voted against 19 projects each since they were elected in 2014 – more than twice that of their colleagues
Surrey Couns. Dave Woods and Judy Villeneuve opposed more projects than their colleagues by far since the 2014 election.

Two Surrey councillors have each opposed more than double the development proposals as any one of their colleagues since they were elected a year-and-a-half ago.

Veteran Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve and political neophyte Dave Woods have each opposed 19 projects and permits before council at public hearing since November 2014.

There were 582 projects voted upon during those 20 months, and their vote-against record was 3.26 per cent.

Villeneuve has said she has scrutinized plans carefully to ensure social services are keeping up with growth.

"We have an obligation, just as we have an obligation to our students, we have an obligation to the people who are most vulnerable in our city to keep up with the social infrastructure," Villeneuve said Thursday in a telephone interview from a conference in Whistler.

Woods told The Leader he has opposed projects for several reasons, a few of which came out of concerns for the loss of tree canopy, and others because he feels schools and infrastructure aren't keeping up with growth.

The Leader tallied the number of opposing votes from publicly available minutes. Only votes cast at public hearings on development projects were counted.

The next closest opposing councillor was Coun. Vera LeFranc, who has long been a champion of social services, much like Villeneuve, and voted against nine projects (1.55 per cent).

Couns. Mary Martin and Mike Starchuk, and Mayor Linda Hepner, opposed seven projects (1.2 per cent) during the time period, while Coun. Tom Gill voted against four (0.69 per cent).

The councillors who voted most in favour of projects were Couns. Barbara Steele and Bruce Hayne, who turned down only three (0.52 per cent) since November 2014.

The numbers aren't entirely unusual for city council.

In 2005, The Leader reported that then-mayor Doug McCallum supported more than 99 per cent of the projects before him over three years.

McCallum said at the time the approval rate didn't strike him as unusually high, and said he treated each development on its own merits.

Then-Coun. Bob Bose said he had staff run the numbers on McCallum's Surrey Electors Team slate a number of years earlier and the approval rate was 98.5 per cent.

Steele said by and large, she's quite happy with the plans being brought before council and added Surrey staff have done their homework.

Coun. Bruce Hayne feels much the same, but said he is often "led the charge" in sending projects back to staff for refinement, rather than directly opposing them.

"From my perspective, that's a more reasoned solution," Hayne said. He points to a staff referral on the Bose Farm development on 64 Avenue near 164 Street, which resulted in a delay and change that cost the developer, but ended up spurring a much better project, Hayne said.

Voting records are becoming important for residents in various neighbourhoods in Surrey as they work to sway council on big developments that will increase the population near already overcrowded schools.

On April 21, the Surrey Board of Education voted unanimously in favour of a motion asking the City of Surrey to "temporarily suspend all new development approvals in the Clayton, Grandview/South Surrey and Newton regions until the Surrey School District receives adequate provincial funding to support the growing numbers of students moving into these regions."

Wood said his wife is a former teacher and said he's acutely aware of the link between development and crowded classrooms.

"I voted against some developments simply because of the schooling issue," Woods said in an interview from Whistler.

He said he takes a pragmatic approach and prefers to deal with the developments on a case-by-case basis rather than an all-out moratorium.

Woods said he would rather say "we're not going to approve it at this time, until there's more direction from the province."

Hayne agrees that a moratorium on development is not the answer.

He believes the city should be working with Victoria to ensure schools are being built to match growth.

The city can project how many students will be in Surrey in the coming years with a high degree of accuracy, he said. However, he said the province waits until schools are overcrowded before doing anything about them.

Coun. Judy Villeneuve said it's important the city meet with the Surrey Board of Education and present a joint resolution to the province.

"I think we need to come out together with a resolution that the province plays its role in providing the schools for our city," Villeneuve said. "The province is aware of what the plans are and they should be meeting their obligation."

LeFranc said Victoria has to live up to its responsibilities.

"I don't think it's the responsibility of city council to make that happen," LeFranc said Thursday. "That being said, I'm deeply sympathetic towards the parents who are having to deal with this."

The meeting between the school board and city has been scheduled for next week.