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Landowners await payday in Port Kells

Fourteen years after the City of Surrey released a land use plan for the area, land speculators and owners are still waiting for the payoff
The Anniedale-Tynehead neighbourhood community plan covers about 408 hectares (1008 acres) of northeast Surrey. | City of Surrey

Fourteen years after the City of Surrey released a land use plan for 1,008 acres (408 hectares) in Port Kells south of the Trans-Canada Highway, and seven years since much of the land was designated for higher-density residential development, land speculators and owners are still waiting for the payoff.

Many of the approximately 350 owners are holding small acreages and are asking up to $2.1 million per acre in the Anniedale-Tynehead area of historic Port Kells, but sales have slowed.

Surrey’s planning department has received only one subdivision application. That was from Surrey developer BeechWestgard, which has acquired about 100 acres in the area in six parcels near 96 Avenue and Highway 15 (176 Street).

BeechWestgard has offered to front-end the cost of installing the infrastructure spine for sewer and water services to their sites, with the understanding that future developers would share in the cost. It is a bid to get development traction in what is seen as a prime residential destination in B.C.’s fastest-growing city.

Since July 2017, there have been five completed sales in Anniedale-Tynehead, covering 30 acres. All of this land is designated but not yet zoned for high-density residential under the city’s 2012 neighbourhood concept plan.

Most recent land sales in the area, however, have been “off-market” and have 12-to-18-month completions, according to a spokesman for Frontline Real Estate Services, which sold a one-acre site in the area last April for $1.8 million.

The long completions reflect the lack of servicing agreements to the site and the current slump in the Fraser Valley residential market, said Joe Varing, president of Varing Marketing Group with Homelife Glenayre Realty Co. Ltd. of Surrey, who has also been active in Port Kells.

Varing said that after a “frenzy” of activity in the past two years, the Surrey land market has slowed as residential sales plunged.

“We expect some proposed new condo developments will not go ahead,” noted Randy Heed, a land specialist with Colliers International’s Surrey office.

Varing said it might take years for any development to start in the Anniedale-Tynehead zone because of approval delays at the municipal level.

This was underscored by a message from Surrey’s planning department. Ron Gill, north division manager of area planning and development for the City of Surrey, noted that council received BeechWestgard’s infrastructure application two months ago, on December 17.

“Council referred the application back to city staff for additional information regarding the potential impacts in the Anniedale-Tynehead area,” Gill said in an email response. “City staff is working on compiling the information requested by council, and will then present the application back to council for further consideration. The application requires rezoning, and as such, should council choose to proceed with the application, a public hearing would be scheduled so that council can hear comments from the public in advance of deciding on whether or not to support the application.”

Even if the city supported BeechWestgard’s application, “any subsequent redevelopment in the Anniedale-Tynehead area would require separate development application review processes, including rezoning, which would include public hearings, and be subject to city council approval on an application-by-application basis,” Gill wrote.

Heed isn’t holding his breath. He noted it took 10 years to reach the March 2018 approval of a a $1.6 billion light-rail transit (LRT) line in Surrey, a move that convinced many speculators to buy land along the proposed route. The new city council then cancelled the LRT shortly after the October 2018 municipal election and is now pushing instead for a $2.3 billion SkyTrain extension from Surrey to Langley, a process that could take another decade.

Heed is confident that Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum will eventually get the SkyTrain extension built, and he suggested political and planning decisions are simply part of the minefield land speculators face.

“That’s why it is called speculation,” he said. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”