NEIGHBOURHOODS: Crescent Beach is Surrey's 'hang-ten' seaside village

NEIGHBOURHOODS: Crescent Beach is Surrey’s ‘hang-ten’ seaside village

EDITOR’S NOTE: From Panorama Ridge to Tynehead to East Clayton, Surrey has become home to practically dozens of cities within cities.

With more than half a million people living in Surrey, each of these communities has created its own identity.

With our new series we call "Neighbourhoods," we are coming to your area simply because we want to tell its story.

Recognizing that every one is unique, both in their character and in the challenges they face, our series will look at each area’s struggles and triumphs.

This ongoing feature will showcase Surrey’s dozens of neighbourhoods through stories, photos and video.

To share your neighbourhood’s story, email us at edit@thenownewspaper.com with the subject line "Neighbourhoods."

 

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CRESCENT BEACH — If you ask Erik Seiz to describe his beloved neighbourhood of Crescent Beach, he’ll tell you it’s a "calming slice of the Gulf Islands, in Surrey’s backyard."

Crescent Beach is located in the Semiahmoo Peninsula in the southwest corner of the city, with the ocean on three sides and a bluff to the south.

Areas include lands traditionally associated with the beach and residential seaside located below Crescent Heights Bluff and to the high-water mark on the shoreline of Semiahmoo, Boundary and Mud Bays.

As city planning documents put it, "the pastoral nature, the semi-rural feeling and seaside village atmosphere of Crescent Beach engraved in the community gives the area an identifiable character."

And that character is cherished, said Seiz, who is president of the Crescent Beach Property Owners Association.

Made up of mostly single-family homes, and currently housing just over 1,200 residents, the area has one commercial district along Beecher Street, which serves as the corridor leading to the beach. The modest district boasts high-end restaurants, cafés, ice cream shops and more.

Seiz noted the diversity in the area is "insane."

Everything from your "total tinfoil hat crowd" to "oil executives."

And for the most part, everyone intermingles and is committed to the community.

"It’s a laid back, hang-ten, Norman Rockwell kind of place," he said.

crescent beach

While locals cherish the beach, he said there’s many more gems, pointing to the lesser-known-about Dunsmuir Garden. After crossing the BNSF railway tracks into the area, there is a path to the immediate right – and that path will take you to the community garden.

It’s the city’s very first community garden to be operated on city land, and is located within Blackie Spit Park. The entire City of Surrey park was dedicated by council following a public referendum in the late ’90s.

It inherits its name from the John Dunsmuir family, who owned the property from 1940 to 1949. The city eventually obtained the land, and in 1975 residents were given permission to use it for community gardens. Nearly 40 years later, it’s still a popular spot and has an "infinite waitlist," Seiz said.

erik seiz crescent beach

But that’s just one gem. The south end of Crescent Beach is the gateway to an "uncompressed, west coast trail experience" that extends to White Rock, Seiz boasted.

"The tranquil vistas along the Surrey bluff corridor are easily just as profound as any on the island. All of it, right next to a million taxpayers," he said. "No ferry, no line up, no $100 gas bill. You can wake up in Langley, experience the best sea kayaking in B.C., and still be home for the evening news."

Seiz said the corridor could offer more than just good weather and tranquil vistas, and has dreams of what that could look like.

"It could support a few thousand tiered garden plots, in a mixed-use, public-private business model. B.C. vineyards could lease sections to create an immersive experience for tasting, eating and brand promotion. Some plots could have outdoor kitchens, or wood-fired pizza ovens," he said.

"There could be covered pergolas, gas heaters and snug loungers to enjoy the view. The natural amphitheatre could support cultural event and outdoor theatre. It would be a place to go."

Seiz said with increasing trade between Canada and the U.S. and rising sea levels, the train tracks will eventually have to move.

"The only question is when," he said, adding that it would be the perfect time to "unlock" the corridor and use it to make the area an attraction to those across the region and beyond.

And train traffic is an issue that frustrates many locals.

Seiz estimates the frequency of trains has quadrupled in the last 12 years – going from roughly five trains a day to about 20. Couple that with the number of times the trains have to whistle as they drive through the beach and the screeching of brakes as they slow down, and it’s enough to drive anyone crazy, he said.

The increased train traffic "has done more than reduce the quality of life for local residents," Seiz noted. "For some, it has made sleep impossible. It has made selling or renting their homes impossible. What once was a charming feature of the community has turned into a form of torture."

crescent beach

When asked about crime in the area, Seiz said crime is everywhere and Crescent Beach is not immune, adding the area mostly deals with car break-ins.

"We definitely get more rowdy people, who have often been drinking. That can be a challenge," he said, but added that seems to have receded in recent years, which he attributed to better policing. "While the number of visitors to Crescent Beach keeps climbing, misbehavior actually seems to be dropping."

Nela Hallwas moved to Crescent Heights – just up from the beach – three years ago.

"I wouldn’t change anything about it," she said of the area. "I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve lived in the states, I’m in my mid-50s and I’ve found my sanctuary. I’ve found my home. There’s nothing like it.

"I’ve travelled to exotic places and been to exotic beaches, but there’s something about my little rocky Crescent Beach that pulls me back. Every day it serves me up a different spectacle.

"Last winter I went down when it snowed heavily. It was a treacherous hike down the trail. It was the first time in my life I saw snow on the sand. The beach was covered with snow and it was spectacular," she said.

Hallwas, a choreographer, says the beach is a huge source of inspiration for her work.

"I need that communion with nature desperately. A piece I did last year was called Aria – the Italian word for air – and my time on Crescent Beach had a lot to do with the creation of that piece."

crescent beach

And there are many artists in the area, she said.

"There’s a lot of studios, and writers and painters. We all kind of quietly live here."

Looking to the future, Hallwas hopes the area remains as it is today.

"I don’t want it to become a big developer’s dream," she said. "People need to know it’s magnificent."

And it doesn’t seem that the area is set to change much.

Jean Lamontagne, Surrey’s manager of planning and development, said the city is aware residents want to retain the feel and character of the neighbourhood.

"New homes that are built need to fit within the character of the neighbourhood as much as possible and there is a desire to keep the beach area as natural as possible, as is the case at the moment," Lamontagne said. "For the future, one would think the neighbourhood will keep its current character and built form."

crescent beach

areid@thenownewspaper.com