Tom Zytaruk and Amy Reid
SURREY — A civic development project next to the 425-acre (183-hectare) Green Timbers Urban Forest is moving ahead after Surrey city council unanimously gave it the green light Monday night.
The city is rezoning roughly five hectares (roughly 12 acres) of what used to be provincial land adjacent to to Green Timbers, which has second growth forest, wetlands, a lake, meadows and nature trails.
The city gave third reading Monday to amend the Official Community Plan bylaw to redesignate the forested site, at 9900 140th St. and 14150 Green Timbers Way, from mixed employment to multiple residential and rezone the site from one acre residential to comprehensive development to permit institutional, civic, medical and government-related offices, residential uses, a care facility, emergency shelter, transitional housing, offices, a bio-energy facility, parking, retail stores and restaurants to be developed there.
The City of Surrey purchased the properties from the province in 2014 and Councillor Tom Gill confirmed with staff that there were no obligations at the time of sale.
Before the vote, Councillor Judy Villeneuve checked with staff that these properties were not part of the dedicated Green Timbers Urban Forest, through either the 1987 or the 1996 referendums.
Villeneuve said she supported the rezoning because of the need to replace the city’s shelter.
“The City of Surrey is behind on social infrastructure,” she remarked, noting the city has been trying to get a new shelter off the ground for the past five to eight years and that BC Housing has signed off on this location.
“We need the opportunity and lands positioned well, close to services, in order to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens in the city,” she said. “So that’s why I’m supporting the rezoning with the understanding that it is not any part of the (designated) forested area and that the arborist will do a more thorough check so that any kind of development we do on this site is in line with preserving every heritage tree we can.”
Don Schuetze, president of Green Timbers Heritage Society, was met with applause a week earlier when he said the forest should instead be declared part of Green Timbers Forest.
“It’s difficult to argue against care facilities, transitional housing and the other uses that are being mentioned here,” he told council. “They’re necessary causes, and if it was any other space I’d be embarrassed to even question it. But Green Timbers is special, it’s unique, and it is threatened.”
He asked, “Is this the best use of this space for the long term?”
The audience laughed when Schuetze noted the irony that one of the proposed uses for this site is a bio-energy facility, “to clear forested land for a green industry.”
Once “dug over,” he told council, the forest can never be brought back. “It can’t be picked up and moved to another part of Surrey. It can’t be re-conceptualized and developed somewhere else. This is it.
“This could become Surrey’s Stanley Park,” he said, referring to it as an “incredible jewel” on edge of Surrey’s downtown.
Schuetze said it’s difficult to tell where Green Timbers Park begins and ends in relation to the forest under this rezoning proposal.
“To most people this whole area is already a park,” he said. “Perhaps a trained surveyor can see marks in the woods or something, but to most people this whole area is already a park.
Randi Overall, who has lived in a condo in the area for about 20 years, says a vote of approval will mean a lot more traffic in the area and that he’d rather see “greenery” than buildings.
“We have to have some greenery instead in North Surrey, instead of buildings.”
Angela Walker spoke of birds chirping, and watching eagles, “People really appreciate that park,” she said, asking that the forest be designated as parkland.
“You can never replace that.”
Some speakers voiced enthusiasm for the city’s application. Kirk Fisher, of South Surrey, produced 95 letters from medical and business professionals and staff in support.
Matthew Alexander, another South Surrey resident, said the plan as presented continues to protect Green Timbers Urban Forest and noted that the city is considering rezone the site rom residential to higher residential, not parkland to residential. “I think it’s a good plan,” he said.
Elizabeth Model, CEO of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, representing about 1,500 businesses, said her organization supports the zoning change, arguing the proposed uses are ideally situated and will help vulnerable people. “It does not compromise the business community and therefore the economic growth projections and long-term tax revenue for this city,” she said.
Jim Foulkes, a director for Green Timbers Heritage Society, said council should “preserve the trees to the satisfaction of the people of Surrey.”
“Basically our sole reason for being is to try to preserve your park from this slow whittling away of areas of it,” he said of his society, to applause.
“It may not be designated as a park, it may not be legalized as a park, but in 1930 the province of B.C. said it would stay as a forest in perpetuity. I’m rather dumbfounded that when a piece of land suddenly comes up that the province has been holding for some 90 years as treed area, realty services jumps on the chance to turn it into a residential development when a referendum had most of the people of Surrey voting that they want to have a park.”
“You can’t get it back,” he noted.
Deb Jack, Surrey Environmental Partners, called for a a thorough assessment of the trees and wildlife in the forest under rezoning consideration.
“Quite frankly there’s going to be another killing field if we don’t know what’s there,” she said, adding she wants heritage trees protected. “We are simply losing too many, as far as the whole city is concerned.”
Bill Potma, a resident of nearby Odyssey Tower, said if council gives up the trees to development, it should have never called the street Green Timbers Way. “because you’re talking away pieces, one after another.”
“If it’s not a park, it certainly is a forest,” he added.
Janis Tancowny echoed that. “If it looks like a park, if it looks like a forest, it kind of is a forest.”
“I just don’t understand why we’re doing the same-old, same-old all the time,” she said. “I think there’d be better properties to do this at. There’s so many cookie-cutter homes throughout Surrey, the trees are just being chopped down everywhere, and here would be another example.”
Grant Rice, of Newton, said he’s against the application.
“I know you’re saying it’s not part of the forest, not part of the protected forest, but it should be part of the protected forest,” he told council.
Elizabeth Holcombe, who lives right across street, from the land, told council “I don’t want transitional or homeless shelters there; there’s an elementary school right around the corner. We put steel gates in our complex to keep people like that out of our complex because there’s a huge problem in that area.”
A required Phase 1 Development Permit must now be processed before the project can move ahead and receive final approval from city council.