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City staff listen to Surrey residents and say no to increase in monster homes

However, there is a catch, albeit one I think many Surrey-ites can live with.

In last nights council meeting, city council said no to the proposed increase requested by the Surrey Ratepayers Association, and told city planners to approach a neighbourhood by neighbourhood zoning approach. In this manner, anybody wishing to increase the home size in a particular neighbourhood, would have to go through a re-zoning process to do so, specific to that neighbourhood. This places the responsibility of  allowing monster home builds squarely on the people who will be affected by them within their own communities.

Using this approach, two neighbourhoods have already successfully fought the encroachment of monster homes into their  older neighbourhoods, with 70% of their community supporting the proposal.  St Helen’s Park, for example, went through several years of  dialogue and planning with the city before being zoned Comprehensive Development. There are strict guidelines for new home builders in the neighbourhood that prohibit the building of monster homes, so that residents can preserve the characteristics of the neighbourhood, and maintain  a sustainable level of space for all. Potential new home owners are advised of the guidelines  by their realtors in advance of purchasing in the area.

Overall, the St. Helen’s model has been a success, and the neighbourhood retains a very livable feel and appearance – unlike many other neighbourhoods in Surrey, where green space and trees have all been razed in place of monster homes. 

As for me, I say it’s about  time council started listening to residents, because in light of recent council decisions regarding the Welcome Home rehab facility, and allowing slots into one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city, the city has been accused of ignoring residents concerns and their duties as  council members.

A recent column by Frank  Bucholtz in the Surrey Leader, highlights the lack of proper consultation between the city and it’s residents, and he says that the cities consultation process is broken.  In uncustomary fashion, I’ve  included it here in its entirety, because I felt in this case, taking excerpts, really takes away from his  total message. Frank makes some excellent points.

COLUMN: Public left out of process

by Frank Bucholtz -Surrey North Delta Leader

Surrey’s consultation process is broken.

I couldn’t agree more with Coun. Barinder Rasode, who lamented the divisiveness and lack of meaningful dialogue at the five open houses on amending Surrey’s bylaw to allow larger homes to be built on the traditional 60-foot lots which were once the suburban standard.

Rasode said she would like to take a good look at the structure of Surrey’s public information meetings.

“I’d like it to be a true exchange of information and I don’t think these ones were. As a council, we need to take a look at (consultation) and see how we can do that differently.”

Her words came at a most opportune time. Not only has the consultation on large homes been divisive and controversial, it wound up just as the city made another attempt at consultation, this time on the plan to allow an adventure park in Redwood Park. A proposal for a five-hectare area “wild play” area, including zip lines, suspension bridges and scramble nets, was the subject of an open house on Tuesday night.

This meeting is a classic illustration of all that Rasode finds objectionable. It was held months after the initial suggestion of an adventure park was brought to public attention.

There was minimal notice to those who are interested. Unless one checks the city website regularly, or happens to see an advertisement (which do not reach some Surrey residents at all), these meetings are never known to most people.

In addition, this meeting was held from 6 to 8 p.m., which is not the most opportune time for people who are just on their way home from work, and it was held at Hall’s Prairie Elementary, the night before a statutory holiday. The school is located in a remote rural part of Surrey that is miles from a transit line.

Had I known about this meeting more than 24 hours in advance, I would have attended, given my strong concern that Surrey is letting a unique heritage park be partially taken over by a private company.

Nonetheless, the city persists in holding sham meetings like this. They take place on the premise that no one can complain about a project if such a meeting is held, because they had the opportunity to speak up.

I’ve attended many of these meetings over the years, on several occasions about development plans in my neighbourhood. They are set-ups from the very beginning. Opinions that are at odds with the planning department are pushed off to the side and never featured in any report on the meetings.

Surrey, whether by accident or design, uses a scattergun approach to public consultation. Citizens are allowed to have their say, but the feedback is so diffused as a result of the process, the essence of their concerns is completely lost.

There are exceptions. When the community is able to rally around one project and it captures enough of the public’s interest, as happened with the planned road extension through Bear Creek Park, city staff and council cannot ignore it.

But in most other situations, the current approach works very well in ensuring that the city is run by senior staff in exactly the way they want it run, with minimal interference from council – and particularly from pesky citizens.

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