In a decision that seemed to surprise many in attendance, Surrey city council voted 5-4 Saturday in opposition of a gaming application transfer that would have allowed for the construction of a $100-million casino entertainment complex in South Surrey.
The narrow vote followed the conclusion of a marathon public hearing that stretched over the course of two sessions for a combined time totalling more than 13 hours, during which around 120 speakers presented to council their case in favour or opposition of the project.
While councillors Barinder Rasode, Tom Gill, Linda Hepner and Barbara Steele voted in favour of the project, councillors Marvin Hunt, Bruce Hayne, Judy Villeneuve and Mary Martin voted in opposition, with Mayor Dianne Watts casting the deciding vote.
In the reasoning for her decision, Watts said that while she did see the benefit the project's amenities, such as the four-star hotel and convention centre, would offer the city, she did not feel it would be right to transfer the current Newton gaming application into a community that clearly did not want it.
"One thing I know for sure is the South Surrey community is a very passionate community and cares very deeply about their community and what happens in Surrey," she said.
The casino would have also brought in an estimated $3 million a year in gaming revenues for the city.
Terry McNiece, president of the South Surrey Ratepayers' Association and key organizer of the opposition movement, said the decision showed that democracy is alive and well today.
"All the effort is put in by people in the community and, as you saw, they were quite passionate about it," he said. "A lot of people said this was a done deal but we always said it wasn't a done deal until it was put to a vote."
McNiece also said he believed the number of youth that came out to speak in opposition was a key factor in the final decision, something Watts herself alluded to during her reasoning.
"We've heard from our youth, they came out with a very passionate point of view," she said. "We haven't seen that before and I'm very impressed they made the effort to come out."
During the public hearing, council heard from various high school and post-secondary students hailing from the South Surrey area.
One such youth, 23-year-old Adul Mohammed, presented an alternate location for a casino in Surrey, complete with an alternate mock-up he had created. Mohammed did not want to see the land in South Surrey being used for such a development.
"This is the last few pieces of rural beautiful land in Surrey. Please leave that aside for the future," he said.
For 20-year-old Andrew Yergatian, who also spoke before council, the decision was proof that council did in fact listen to its constituents.
"I think my generation has some struggles with believing this is a system that works, but I think if you actually put in the effort it all works out," he said.
However, on the other side, the decision was met with disappointment by those who came out in support of the project.
"We're just as passionate as the opposition was and we're obviously disappointed that, at the end of it all, (council) couldn't see the benefit this would bring to their city," said Tanya Gabara, community liaison for project developer Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Limited.
When asked if Gateway may still be interested in pursuing other opportunities in Surrey, Gabara said she could not speak to that.
"Obviously we put our heart and soul into this project and I can't speak to what the future holds," she said. email@example.com
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