SURREY, B.C. - Residents opposed to a $100-million casino complex in Surrey, B.C., have swayed the city to reject the project that proponents touted as an economic boost for British Columbia's fast-growing city.
Council ditched the controversial proposal with a 5 to 4 vote at 2 a.m. Saturday after a packed public hearing that began Monday night was carried over to Friday and stretched into the next morning.
Eight councillors cast four votes each for and against the project before Mayor Dianne Watts defeated it with her tie-breaking vote.
Watts said she was initially in favour of the development that would have brought much-needed revenue to the city, but changed her mind during the consultation process when there was significant pushback from the No side.
"For me, it was certainly a very difficult decision, without a doubt," Watts said Saturday afternoon.
"Looking at one side of the ledger you've got the taxes and the jobs and the amenities that we need. And on the other side you're looking at it from the city's perspective, the community's perspective, and how we've evolved as a city, what our values are, what our vision is," she said.
The project that was slated to include a hotel and convention centre was proposed by Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Ltd.
The company wanted to move a temporary gaming licence it had for a much smaller facility elsewhere in the city and was backed by the BC Lottery Corp.
"I didn't particularly want a casino but you sort of take the good with the bad," Watts said of her initial reaction to the proposal. "But when I'm hearing loud and clear that this is contrary to the vision people have of their city then you've got to pause."
She said a hotel and convention centre on their own would not have generated enough revenue.
Residents against the mega-entertainment complex said it would invite crime and traffic congestion to the south Surrey neighbourhood, which isn't accessible by transit.
Phil Embley criticized the BC Lottery Corp. for urging the city to approve the licence.
"This is a Crown corporation and they represent all of us," he said. "They also have a regulatory role so what are they doing being a regulator and then cheering for this?"
Embley said he didn't want another gambling establishment in a city where the Fraser Downs casino already exists and causes "social problems" among vulnerable citizens.
Two years ago, Vancouver city council also rejected a proposed casino in the city's downtown.
Surrey has a population of approximately 500,000 people and the largest school district in the province.
Watts said about 1,000 people move there every month.
"About a third of our population is under the age of 19 so when we look at that demographic and the opportunities and challenges with that growth we certainly have to be very thoughtful in terms of what we do."
The city will now consider other revenue-generating ideas to draw the funds it needs for infrastructure, Watts said.