Emotions were high Monday night after Surrey council approved a controversial road through Hawthorne Park.
“You’re destroying Hawthorne Park,” one woman in chambers shouted after the decision, eliciting applause.
“Could you please be quiet in the chamber please?” asked Mayor Linda Hepner.
“You’ll hear our voices in the next election,” another person shouted.
“Thank you. Thank you. That’s what I was hoping for. Civil discourse,” said the mayor.
Hepner attempted to proceed with the public hearing after the vote, but shouting only continued.
Boos then began, as city council left chambers. They returned several minutes later to continue the public hearing.
Surrey City Council’s decision to remove the reservation of a portion of Hawthorne Park from a bylaw comes after months of opposition and more than 11,000 Surrey residents formally voicing their disapproval of the project.
Steven Pettigrew, founder of the Save Hawthorne Park group, estimated about 100 people came out to the Monday night meeting.
He has said approving the road would be political suicide for the civic politicians.
“We will not allow this road to go through the park,” he vowed. “We will block the tractors with hundreds of people. We will hound them their entire campaign trail and make sure that they lose their seat.
“We need a government that truly represents and listens to the people of Surrey and not just special interest groups,” said Pettigrew.
He added: “Get ready for battle.”
Katarzyna Laskowska echoed Pettigrew.
“City council should all be dismissed from their positions immediately,” Laskowska said in an email to the Now-Leader.
“They don’t listen to us, the residents of Surrey, and are never interested in what we want. The city has become unlivable due to non-stop traffic congestion, the loss of tree canopy, the never ending shootings, garbage-lined streets and the out of control development. We want to preserve Hawthorne Park in its entirety, and we don’t want LRT.”
The controversial road is part of 105 Avenue Corridor Project, which aims to connect Whalley to Guildford.
A city report notes the two-lane road would affect four acres of parkland, and that 200 trees would have to fall.
But the city says it will be adding an additional five acres to the park by acquiring adjacent properties, which will add 450 trees to the park.
And, the city is planting 500 trees within the corridor boulevards.
The city’s justification for the road is to move utilities off 104 Avenue in preparation for light rail, that it’s been in the city’s Official Community Plan since 1986, and to create an east-west connector to Whalley Boulevard to 150 Street to ease traffic and reduce congestion.
Why they said yes
Before the vote Monday, one councillor spoke about why she would be voting to approve the road.
Councillor Judy Villeneuve said it was a “difficult decision.”
She said the city’s growth means city council must be “responsible about what kind of services and infrastructure we provide for people, and how people move.”
Villeneuve said City Centre has seen densification, and more density is coming along the corridor from Surrey City Hall to Guildford.
If the plan doesn’t go through, Villeneuve said there would be an “inadequate transportation corridor to service this area.”
She said that is important because vehicle omissions make up one-third of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mostly from idling.
“I understand the concerns of those people that are going to be directly affected by the road but I do think in the long run the community is going to be better served,” she said.
“We need to have balanced development… we have to make responsible planning decisions.”
Villeneuve said she supported the road for these reasons.
“I know how people really love their park and I understand that it’s a beautiful park so council is making a big effort to improve the park,” she added, pointing to $3 million in improvements, hundreds of new trees and five new acres of land being added to the park.
The city is also going to build a larger playground, new washrooms, new trails, and new connections for streams and habitat, she added.
A new entry that’s more accessible for the community is also planned, said Villeneuve.
“I think we’ve made a big effort to reasonably look at how we can improve the park for the community by adding land rather than taking away,” she said.
Villeneuve also said the city would be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the nearby school, Hjorth Road Elementary. The planned connector road would cut through the school’s playing field.
The MOU would be to ensure the playground is moved “successfully” and to negotiate, in the long run, a new location, said Villeneuve.
“Plus some traffic calming will be put in place,” she added. “We know that has to be done and the school district is willing to work with us.”
Villeneuve insisted that this decision about Hawthorne Park does not set any precedent about any other parks in the city.
Mayor Hepner said it was a “difficult balancing act in competing priorities.”
Hepner said the decision has no impact on any of the city’s other parks.
“In fact, we spend $20 million annually to parkland acquisition and just this year, have added 58 acres of new parkland.
“Still, a tough decision.”
How the battle began
The fight over Hawthorne Park began early last summer when residents in the surrounding neighbourhood were sent a letter from city hall announcing its plans.
The letter stated the city planned to build a two-lane road, with an additional connecting road, through the south end of Hawthorne Park as part of the 105th Avenue Connector project.
The street would connect Whalley Boulevard to 150th Street, and work was initially scheduled to begin in late August, according to the letter.
|Steven Pettigrew stands in Hawthorne Park, just steps away from his Surrey townhouse. (Photo: Amy Reid)
Pettigrew lives in a townhouse complex next to the park and, while standing in the forest in June, vowed to fight the destruction of what he called “an oasis in the community.”
He quickly started a petition that garnered more than 1,000 signatures in two days.
“It’s really emotional, you read the comments. It means so much,” he said of comments on the petition. “It’s memories…. You sense a real sense of ‘This is it. We’re making our stand here.’”
Soon after, Pettigrew formed the Save Hawthorne Park group.
His neighbour Tracie Woodhams is outraged.
“We see the barred owls in here, plus we can sit in the complex and if you see the crows going nuts, they’re chasing a red-tailed hawk. It’s absolutely amazing to watch. I can sit out here for hours watching the hawk,” she said. “It’s amazing something like this still exists in the city and they want to take it down?”
After a public meeting in June to collect information from the public, the city made changes to the project: It dropped one of the two planned roads, the 142 Street connection to 104 Avenue.
See also: Hawthorne Park ‘war’ heats up in Surrey
Critics only increased their efforts to halt the project.
After delivering a 5,000-name petition to Surrey council in July, opponents were given until Sept. 22 to collect 30,372 signatures – roughly 10 per cent of Surrey’s electors – in opposition to the project in order to stop the civic government from proceeding with the project.
On Sept. 22, a petition of 12,244 signatures was delivered to Surrey City Hall, along with a rousing rendition of ‘O Canada.’
In the end, the city says it received 11,161 valid elector response forms against removing the protected status of a portion of Hawthorne Park.
The city says 670 forms were rejected for a variety of reasons such as blank or incomplete forms, or not being a valid elector, according to the report.
“The removal of reservation of the land is deemed to be approved by the electors in Surrey unless more than 10 per cent of the eligible electors submit, in writing, their opposition,” noted the city report that included the final tally.
The move has been met with significant opposition, not just by the Save Hawthorne Park group.
Dr. David Suzuki was the featured guest of a rally on Sept. 16 in the plaza outside Surrey City Hall.
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum has also thrown his support behind the group, and was among approximately 100 residents who attended a “Save Hawthorne Park” rally on Aug. 17.
The city says the new roads are intended to support an increase in the population in the area, improving neighbourhood access and connectivity.
Grant Rice with Save Hawthorne Park said he could “draw up a better plan on the back of a napkin in 15 minutes than the one that’s being forced on Surrey’s residents.
“And despite what the Mayor says, this is not just about Hawthorne Park,” Rice recently told the Now-Leader.
“If council is successful in using the AAP to remove park dedications, it can do it anywhere.”