There is an old axiom that you can’t fight city hall. There is some truth in this, unfortunately, but sometimes the issues you are faced with are worth the fight.
Our quiet suburban neighbourhood of one-acre homes, which stretches from 26 to 28 Avenues, and 164 to 168 Streets, is part of Area 5 of Grandview Heights. It is zoned for 1-2 units per acre and has no Neighbourhood Concept Plan at this time.
We had always been told that no development would take place until there was an NCP for our area, and many of us made long-term plans based on these assurances. When a mysterious attempt was made to rezone 6 acreages on 164 Street between 26 and 28 Avenues around the time Morgan Heights was being built, our neighbour, the late Ken Hall, investigated and those plans were promptly dropped.
Then in 2013 a few nearby neighbours were notified that there was now a development proposal for those 6 properties, initiated by the owners and managed by a development company. There were several sparsely attended meetings (the city only has to notify immediate neighbours, so most people in our area had no idea what was happening) and it soon became clear that city council was determined to allow a large, dense subdivision on those 6 acreages.
Some of us got together and circulated a petition to every house in the neighbourhood (Country Woods residents, who are also in Area 5, also participated) and an overwhelming majority of the neighbours specifically stated that there should be no development without an NCP and thus this proposal should be turned down. A little research determined that this proposal violated many of the important city development policies in the Official Community Plan and the Grandview Heights General Land Use Plan.
We will never know why Surrey Council approved this development, but the final corporate report is here, and my input was included as an addendum.
What lessons can be learned from this unsuccessful fight to save our neighbourhood from being developed in a piecemeal fashion contrary to our wishes?
An average homeowner cannot be expected to learn the development business overnight. Much of what happens is not transparent to anyone outside the system. There is a lot of money involved, and anyone who wants to fight city hall and developers must be aware that the odds are stacked against them and that this struggle will consume hundreds of hours of time. It is also important to note that the development community contributes massively to municipal election campaigns, and that developers are far more familiar with the process and the individuals involved in that process than you will ever be.
My advice would be simple. Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about the development proposal you are disputing, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, lots of questions, to the city planning staff and your elected representatives. Neighbourhoods have to organize and unite and fight these battles together. They have to make their objections loudly and forcefully to city council, through petitions, letters, e-mails and especially through the media. While my experience was that informal commitments made by politicians are dubious at best, and it’s difficult to know how many, if any, of the messages taxpayers send to their elected representatives are actually read, it is almost certain that politicians who want to stay in office read all the stories the media write about them, especially around election time.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and are presented here by the GHSA to encourage healthy debate. The GHSA Blog exists as a resource to enable members concerned with the environmental and community stewardship of Grandview Heights to voice perspectives. When directors of the Association contribute to the blog, they do so as private citizens, not as officers representing the Association. The GHSA reserves the right to edit, condense or reject any contribution.