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The “Edge” and the “Wedge”: more development into rural/suburban Area 5

Since the 36-lot 164th infill in Area 5 of Grandview Heights passed 3rd reading on June 23, 2014,( final adoption was passed by Council on December 1, 2014.) acreage property-owners who cherish a neighbourhood of quiet country character have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Drop it did in the form of re-zoning application 14-0225 (16442 28th Ave) whose green sign was posted just days after the election. Click here to see the pre-notification and proposed lot layout).

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Property looking west

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Property looking east

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This application needs to be discussed historically in the context of the 164th infill development as its genesis starts there.  Hopefully you will bear with me because as the chronicle unfolds, we will be ping-ponging between Plannning and Council events in the spring and their interaction with/influence on the present situation. Its a great story: please stick around to read it.

The 164th infill is marked within the purple boundary beside the “164th St arrow.” The new application 14-0225 is to the north, marked in red.

164 INFILL 2

On March 11, 2013, Planning and Council recommended to a delegation of seven homeowners on 164th St that they could retain a consultant to proceed with a land assembly and urban infill development within Area 5 of Grandview Heights. This area is zoned RA Residential Acreage, (1-2 units per acre) in the Grandview Heights General Land Use Plan (GLUP 2005). In their appeal to Mayor and Council, homeowners cited lack of ability to sell their properties to due to their narrow configuration and asked for the City’s help to solve their circumstances of personal hardship.

The infill application became active in the summer of 2013. Hundreds of hours of meetings, work, and letter-writing from the neighbours adjacent to this assembly over the period of a year was initiated, including a petition signed by 85 households against the development. This is because the property is located outside of an Neighbourhood Concept Plan Area (Area 5 of the General GLUP has no NCP and therefore planning lots with a density higher than 2 units per acre (1/2 acre) contravenes both the GH GLUP and the Official Community Plan which states that no development can occur in areas without Council-approved NCP. The two-stage NCP process, initiated when landowners have an appetite for development, takes years and considerable resources to accomplish. As soon-to-be-former Mayor Dianne Watts affirmed on September 8, 2014 during a public hearing regarding development in lands without an NCP, “All applications have to wait. It’s a process and a policy that’s been in place since we started the NCP process I think back in the 1980’s. So nothing, there’s no application that will come before council in Stage 1 that will get approved. It will not happen, it cannot happen, it has never happened.” Well, a development that was not even in a stage one NCP area, the 164th St infill, was approved in June 2014 and it is evident that far from being a “one off,” it was designed at the outset for further expansion into non-NCP Area 5.

If you are interested in the timeline of then 164th St infill, you can click here for all details of the neighbourhood’s opposition to this proposal, links to City documents, press, and more.To learn more about the OCP, the NCP Process and the GH GLUP click here.

Below is a brief overview with a focus on the actual passing of the re-zoning and its ripple effect on to other properties which should, according to the OCP, be off limits.

Initially in 2013, the infill assembly consisted of seven property-owners represented by FirstCentury as developer and Hunter Laird as engineering consultant. One property, the most northerly at the corner of 164th St on 16442 28th Ave dropped out of the process. Nico River Developments (Brock Dorword and Dave Balsor) and Hunter Laird have now applying to rezone this seventh property to feature 7 lots on a one-acre property.

The First Century 164th infill rezoning application went to Public Hearing on April 28, 2014. It was referred back to Planning for further work and consultation with neighbours albeit with minimal changes. On June 23rd this development was passed in third reading at the Council’s Regular Land Use Committee, with all members except Councillor Rasode in opposition because the area was not within an NCP and was therefore not appropriate for subdivision into lots less than 2 units per acre according to its GLUP zoning. The video and minutes of the proceedings can be viewed here.

The 164th infill is currently (Dec 2014) awaiting clearing (only 28 of 204 protected trees are being saved) and for the engineering to commence. Here is the approved plan for the 164th infill, with Morgan Heights to the east and Area 5 acreages to the east and south. And a few snaps of the mature trees that will be removed shortly.

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Mature trees on 164th infill site

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Rare grove on 164th infill site … a few of these trees are actually now within a tree protection fence

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Why was this infill allowed?

According to File: 7913-0226-00 Planning Report Date: June 23, 2014, due to “unique circumstances.” Click here to read the sections of the report which note them.

The long, narrow shape of the lots, the hardships suffered by the landowners and other concerns influenced Council’s decision to grant the rezoning. City Long Range Planner Don Luymes noted in a June 17th, 2014 article in The Now Newspaper that

“the six properties are “a bit orphaned” and the city should have perhaps included them in Grandview 1 – Morgan Heights – which the properties are adjacent to on 164th Avenue.

“Hindsight is 20/20. What we maybe should have done, way back when, is drawn the line for 1 that included these properties because frankly, the configuration of the properties and the age and condition of the homes is such that redevelopment could have been anticipated, for sure.”

Luymes said “the plan underway will limit development further into Grandview 5 and like Villeneuve, is confident it will reassure neighbours that their area will remain untouched. The reality is, subdivisions like (the adjacent properties of Area 5 and) Country Woods aren’t built anymore,” Luymes noted.

That’s why we hope to retain them…. Will new development be of that nature? No, it won’t be, simply because of affordability and the viability of development,” he said.

 

Interestingly, I distinctly recall being part of the neighbourhood Planning process to zone the western side of 164th in this exact location in 2004 during the public consultation period of the writing of the GH GLUP and recently came across archival documents such as letters and reports to the City as well as copies of the Open House comment sheets reflecting the views of neighbours, many still living here. Don Luymes is correct: these properties were considered to be annexed into Morgan Heights NCP1 in a way, as they were earmarked for “transitional density” early on in the GLUP process. Predictably, the same arguments I and those engaged in the process (including the late Ken Hall who was fighting for the (ultimately unsuccessful) retention of the lush majestic firs on both sides of 164th St as well as suburban designation for the east side of 164th, Gary Cameron and others) were making focused on maintaining the “status quo” of residential acreages in Area 5. Early GLUP plans earmarked the east side of 164th and the north side of 26th Ave as “transitional density” to buffer the existing RA acreage homes from Morgan Heights to the west and future Orchard Grove NCP 5A to the south of 26th Ave.

This was opposed vigorously by residents, resulting in these lands maintaining their RA designation in the GLUP. However, it has always been a “wait for the other shoe to drop” situation, because here we now have RA lands on 164th becoming urban — not even true transitional lot size — with the approved 164th infill and now new application 14-0225. Meanwhile on 26th Ave, residents on the north side of the street are lobbying more than is reasonably imagined for taxpayers to do to ensure that the south side of the street in Orchard Grove  is a proper gradual transition zone from the RA lots on the north side of the street as specified in the Orchard Grove NCP 5A, not the “buffer” between Orchard Grove and Area 5 properties to the north. Hence we have a complex and interconnected story of changes, policies, and resident expression of perceptions/expectations of neighbourhood realities which far from saying that higher density should not occur, maintains that it can only occur with sensitivity, observance of established land use guidelines, and extensive community consultation.

These documents are compelling reading and perhaps will be explored in a future piece, for but now, let’s return to the return of the 164th infill as it proceeds further into Area 5 in the form of new rezoning application for 16442 28th St.

Details of the 164th Infill and how this new (and future) application(s) were always part of it

The plan for the 164th infill conveniently includes a half-road at the northern border (which you can see  in the above site plan) that sets up the next phase of the build-out of that corner; city planners in their April 2014 staff report to Council (Page 9) were already anticipating that this will take place:

“Proposed 27A Avenue is a half-road, which would be completed if the properties to the north develop in the future. The applicant has prepared a concept plan which illustrates how the properties to the north can develop, with RF-12 lots fronting 164 Street and 27A Avenue, and large urban lots adjacent to the existing RA lots to the east.”

Sure enough, the new application on the corner of 164th St and 28th Ave  (14-0225) consists of the seventh lot of the original infill, which was at some point removed from the final 164th infill assembly and, when you look at the lot plan, you can’t miss the observation the lot to its immediate east is also marked up for subdivision. This suggests that the subdivision layout drawn up by engineering consultants Hunter Laird for the 164th infill had already encompassed, at least conceptually, two more acres into unprotected Area 5 to continue the project.

Here is the 164th infill lot layout for the six properties passed by Council in June 2014 (YELLOW), new Application 14-0225 which features 7 lots on one acre (PINK) The suggestion of implied further development to the east can be seen on 28th Ave, which is currently a rental house (BLUE) and which already shows lot subdivision mark ups for five lots.  The importance of including this in this plan will be seen below. The lot layout for the new application is also below so you can see it in more detail.

infill total devo copy00328_subdivision-layout-Development Concept Plan

Back to the spring of 2014 and the 164th infill for a moment.

Several elements were at play during the April 2014 Public Hearing for the 164th infill:

  • The issue of the OCP being altered for the convenience of both the land assembly’s owners and Planning’s preference to develop urban housing on the east side of 164th north to blend into North Grandview NCP where vacant lots and houses are awaiting development. 85 residents who signed a petition against the development were not in favor of Council abandoning its own land use rules.
  • The concern – actually severe anxiety – of residents of one acre properties in adjacent Area 5 that if “piecemeal” spot zoning of urban infill development was to be approved on 164th, how could these residents have any future confidence that the character of their neighbourhood be preserved for the future in absence of any binding plan? Numerous taxpayers spoke to this issue. The GLUP after all is merely a secondary use plan, and not even an NCP.
  • Density of the infill too high, inadequate density buffering from adjacent 1 acre lots in a few places, amount of tree loss.
  • The further concern that aside from one resident who canvassed the neighbourhood far beyond the City’s 100 metre notification boundary to spread information about the development, there was no greater public consultation because only residents living adjacent to the infill were invited to meetings with the developer and the City.
  • Several positive suggestions were made to make the development more palatable: Tree retention on the most densely treed lot for a “pocket park” was suggested, which would extend the walkway from 27th Ave in Morgan Heights across the street and provide a nice terminus to the path while saving significant old growth trees. And of course the most sensible solution of creating an infill development of ½ acre lots (dearly coveted in Grandview Heights) which would instantly solve the problem of amending the GLUP RA zoning.

When the file returned for third reading after being referred back to staff for several weeks, Mayor and Council had likely heard its fill from neighbourhood phone calls, letters and newspaper articles about the dissatisfaction that the City’ own rules about land use were not being followed.

New residents to an area can have confidence that they are buying into an area that they like regardless of the type of home they are investing in because they see a developed immediate neighbourhood. Long-time and existing residents who see the infill precedent as a means of erosion of a country “rural” lifestyle, however, do not share this confidence and the stress it brings affects feelings of quality of life. Residents wonder “what next” and “when next” because there is no assurance of protective zoning.

 

What Council says about protecting the acreages of Area 5

At both the Public Hearing on April 28th and the Third reading on June 23 2014, certain Council members did thankfully comment on the need for Area 5 residents to feel some measure of security in their properties and way of life despite the infill.   Below are some quotes from the City video of both meetings in chambers:

April 28, 2014 Public Hearing:

Councillor Villenueve: (This is) “an important one acre area in Grandview Heights.”

Councillor Hepner: “I just want to be clear … that all the other properties that are zoned acreage in that area … would like to maintain their protection of an acreage zone would they stay simply fallow until at least half of them came forward and said we’d like to do something different … and the RA’s that are surrounding this stay in that designated form?”

Mr. Lamontagne: “There wouldn’t any changes per se because there would not be an NCP process that would be initiated so the status quo would remain.”

Councillor Heppner: “The status quo would remain, thank you.”

{RA’s are residential acreage zone}

Councillor Villeneuve: “I love the area and preserving those acreage lots is important to me and I’m three generations living in South Surrey so it’s an area that I really do treasure and so I want to make sure those residents feel confident about their investments and their ability to stay there…”

Councillor Hayne: “I’m very much in favour of identifying areas within Surrey that are going to remain one acre in perpetuity so that people can buy into these areas, and buy with confidence that their neighbours aren’t going to all of a sudden put up the green development sign and here we go and the dominos start.”

Councillor Hepner: “I think I agree with Councillor Hayne that there are areas in our city that we would like to see maintained as acres and this is certainly one of those cherished areas and I have friends who live there and I know they love their acreage.”

Councillor Steele: “I really do support the one acre properties. I think it’s really important that Surrey retain those.”

June 23, 2014 – Regular Council Land Use re: 164 Street Infill 3rd Reading

Councillor Hayne: “The residents around this area (referring to the 164 Street development) want assurance that their acreages and their investments are going to be there for them and their families in the future and want assurance from the city that this isn’t the thin edge of the wedge and some creep moving into this community. It’s a beautiful community and I for one certainly wouldn’t support any redevelopment through that area so I would like to see us shore up some of those assurances in that neighbourhood to ensure that their acreages are maintained not just in the short term but in the medium-long term as well.”

Councillor Villeneuve: “If I sensed in this area that there was a big desire for some redevelopment or they wanted planning so they can develop over the next 5-10 years into smaller lots or townhouses to compliment what’s in other parts of the area I would say yes to an NCP but clearly I’ve heard from people that they want this area untouched except for these properties (referring to the 164 Street development) neighbourhood.”

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Those, then, are the words from Council to residents of Area 5 in response to concerns that “piecemeal” spot zoning into the neighbourhood (without an NCP) would not occur. It was clearly pointed out that this infill was a “one off.” It allowed a deep breath to be taken and confidence in the future of our properties restored … briefly.

Planning and Council further offered some procedural reassurance to residents of residential acreage property owners in Area 5 who abut the 164th infill during the 3rd reading of the infill application on June 23:

The Corporate Report to Council states

… it is recommended that Council pass a resolution to re-confirm and establish the properties to the east and south of the subject site (the 164th infiill) as one-acre by re-designating these lands from “Suburban Residential (1 to 2 upa)”to “Suburban Residential (1 acre max.)” in the Grandview Heights GLUP (Enclosure IV)

The property owners of acre age properties to the east and south have indicated a desire to maintain their estate homes with no intention to redevelop in the foreseeable future.

Here is the map which shows this added layer of protection. Note that the new application on 28th Ave and the property to its east, which sit atop the 164th infill property, are excluded. Compare these maps side by side. What do you see?

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 11.39.23 AMinfill total devo copy

It is somewhat comforting to see this “1 acre max” designation, and in combination with the words of several of the Councillors, one might think that the boundary of the 6-property assembly was done. Not so. Two properties in Area 5 were left out of this designation.  A  Corporate report to Council March 31, 2014 had already stated:

As previously noted, the land use designation of “Suburban Residential (1 to 2 upa)” for the two (2) properties to the north of the subject site, at 16442 and 16446 28 Avenue, is not proposed to be amended. The proposed subdivision layout includes a half-road at the north end of the site, which would be completed if the properties to the north develop in the future.

Because of this circumstance, further consideration of development may be entertained for these two properties, subject to a development application review process. Click here for map.

In other words, the 164th infill was essentially a two-part plan. Part 1 was the 6-property assembly passed in exception to the OCP and GLUP in an area not governed by an NCP in June 2014. Part 2 are the two properties that were left out of the “1 acre max” designation. We are seeing the first element of Part 2 in application 14-0225 because three days after the November 15th election, the green development application sign for 16442 28th Ave went up and pre-notification letters including the preliminary site plan were sent out on the next day.

This new application uses the northern road way of the 164th infill property and “finishes” off the corner of 164th and 28th . The property across the street to the north, on the other side of 28,th is located in North Grandview NCP and is zoned RA (1-2 units per acre), but little imagination is required to speculate that the lots fronting 164th will be, down the hill, also smaller urban size like the lots on 164th. Homes in this zone are a valuable product in the Surrey housing market. Since North Grandview has an NCP and amendments are allowed, increasing density is something that is allowed in the process. Increasing density in lands without an NCP, however, is against the OCP.

Thus when Councillor Hayne perceptively references the “thin edge of the wedge” and the “creep” of urban into a rural acreage area (the homes on the south side of 28th Ave and everything to the east and south of them), the lot which is at the corner of 164th and 28th and the one to its east with the markup already on it is just that.

00328_subdivision-layout-Development Concept Plan

The subject property at 16642 28th Ave is not long and narrow, hence unsellable, like the “challenging” properties of the 164th infill were perceived to be. A wide one-acre property with a generous frontage, it could easily be rejuvenated as the site of a new home, as what is being seen in other parts of Area 5. It is not a property owned by a resident under hardship who is selling because of dire necessity or old age as was the case with the 164th infill land assembly owners. This is a speculative investment property. The same argument exists for the property to its east on 28th Ave (shown below on right)

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In fact, this next property (which although is not part of this development application is by virtue annexed to the subject property by Planning’s grouping the two together in the GLUP amendment and map) is really the thin edge of the wedge. If there was an NCP in place, one could rationalize that finishing off the corner of 164th and 28th is a good idea.

But heading eastwards into Area 5? Not only does the development of these two properties (because you know the application of the second one will appear at any time) again contravene the GH GLUP and the OCP, it also contradicts everything our City Councillors said at council meetings about the 164th infill of being an exception, a “one-off.”

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You can see how these two (soon to be three) lot elements were designed as a unit from the beginning. Very tidy with the edge and a little transitional density. But wait, this is intruding further along a street, 28th Ave, that didn’t factor into the 164th infill in the first place and which is home to well-loved beautiful, aging but well-kept acreage homes on a quiet street. These are homes predominantly lived in by invested owners who like where they live. This will evolve on the north side of 28th eventually as sewer services enable the build-out of the North Grandview NCP, but for the most part, even that NCP zoning is half acre suburban lots fronting 28th Ave. The point is that Area 5 is not meant to be the transition zone to any other NCP as stated in the GH GLUP; other NCP’s have to transition zone to Area 5.

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Bucolic 28th Ave, looking east

If Council supports the new application into non-NCP Area 5, then are their statements of support for keeping Area 5 acreages intact contradictory?

Where does this leave residents of Area 5 who live along 28th Ave and in the 165th St cul-de-sac? Where does it leave anyone who lives in Area 5 who sees development “nibbling” along the edges?  Where does it leave all residents of Surrey who have heard their Council vocally support the uniqueness of a neighbourhood yet remain anxious and unsure about everything from their way of life, erosion of property value, and most fundamentally, the trust in those who decide the shape of neighbourhoods?

I know I want to believe that our respected City Councillors who spoke out in favor of preserving a rare-form of lot size which, as Don Luymes confirms, will not be developed in the future, will support what they have said. When people are willing to buy a home on an acreage lot, tear it down and build new, you know the neighbourhood is in demand and has enduring value. What does it take to enable a neighbourhood to evolve and change without the threat that certain parts of it, which should be protected by the OCP, are not constantly subject to erosion and uncertainty?

Evidently, this application for 16442 28th and the inevitable application for the property to its east which have been planned from the start of the 164th infill to be part of it is a tug-of-war between two concepts: the edge and the wedge. “Edge effects” are ways of finishing a development, street or area with a consistent built form and look. The “edge” is tidy, pleasing, and good planning. The “wedge” is what happens when small changes grow into large ones, by eventually and invasively changing and destroying what was originally there. No one, least of all me, wants to or can stop higher density development in Grandview Heights. Like everything, it has its place in a sustainable mixed-density community. It brings many benefits to a vibrant neighbourhood. However, until Planners and Council take a second look at the creep of growth into a low density area without an NCP, no one who lives there rests easily.

What is coming next?

By Victoria Blinkhorn