SURREY — The group behind an effort to halt the City of Surrey’s plans to build a road through Hawthorne Park is hoping a new video will rally more to its cause.
But the city says the video is using outdated information and is misleading.
The video, which is over seven minutes long, was produced for free by LG Digital, said Ken Bennett with the group called Save Hawthorne Park.
“He’s a fellow that’s a friend of one of our members, and he just offered to do it for us,” Bennett told the Now-Leader.
The Save Hawthorne Park group is adamantly opposed to a road which is part of the 105 Avenue Connector project. The group questions the city’s justification for the road — which so far has been to move utilities off 104 Avenue in preparation for light rail, to connect Whalley Boulevard to 150 Street and that it’s been in the city’s Official Community Plan since 1986.
The opposition video, which has been shared on Facebook, highlights the park’s environmental habitat, including the bog. In it, local residents also express their concerns about trees falling and the loss of a buffer from 104th Avenue, among other things.
A 14-year-old Surrey resident named Madison is featured in the video. In it, she says she has been visiting the park since before she could walk.
“I always loved coming here, it would always be fun,” she said. “It would be really sad to see it change.”
If the road was to go through, Madison said, “it’d be a lot louder here, a lot more hectic, I don’t think anyone would be nearly as interested to come to a park next to a highway, essentially…. It’s a shame what it’s destroyed. Not just the trees, (a) couple peoples’ homes are getting taken down.”
Tracie Woodhams with the Save Hawthorne Park group also speaks in the video.
“It makes me cry to think my kids grew up here, but my grandkids aren’t gonna.
“It disturbs me tremendously that they really aren’t consulting with anybody in the neighbourhood. We live here, we use this park, as do the many people you see behind me,” said Woodhams, gesturing behind her, as children and their families play.”
Now-Leader columnist Frank Bucholtz also joined the fight, calling the one-slate Surrey First city council “arrogant” in the video.
“They don’t really care what average residents think anymore,” said Bucholtz. “I think we need to stand up and say it’s not acceptable to stand up and build roads through parks… just because a council wants it to happen that way.”
The video’s aim, said Bennett, is two-fold.
“There are two big messages. One is that the Alternative Approval Process is an abuse of process and power by the city to take away the protection of the parks so they can ram the road through,” said Bennett. “No park in Surrey is safe now. They can do this anywhere. As a matter of fact, any municipality in the province can do this.
“The second one is that the impact to the social and environmental well-being of that neighbourhood is going to be significantly impacted,” he continued, noting several kilometres of private property will be affected, and the road will go through the Hjorth Road Elementary property.
The road is “extremely intrusive,” said Bennett.
After presenting a 5,000-person petition to city council earlier this summer, the group has been given until Sept. 22nd to collect 30,372 signatures in opposition to the project in order to stop the civic government from proceeding.
Bennett said the group has collected thousands of signatures so far.
“But we have to get over 30,000 in three more weeks. That’s very daunting.”
After watching the video, Councillor Mike Starchuk said it includes old information.
Starchuk said it “doesn’t take into consideration the design has changed, and there isn’t a (second) road connecting to 104th Avenue anymore. It talks about people losing their homes and no one is losing a home.
“Not sure how purchasing five acres that are declared five acres that are declared high biodiverse value is contrary to our charter,” he added. “And more importantly, not sure how road dedication from 30-plus years ago will lead to other parks having roads go through them.”
But Grant Rice with Save Hawthorne Park disagreed, saying there are several other precedents that pre-date Starchuk’s time on coundil where the city tried to put roads through parks.
“They wanted to extend 134th Street through Holland Park to connect to University Drive and they have tried to extend 84th Avenue through Bear Creek Park on several occasions. In those cases, council backed down due to public opposition.
“The video, while somewhat dramatic, is talking about the existing plans, not the 142nd Street extension,” added Rice. “And yes, people are losing their homes where the 105 Connector extends beyond the park. You would have to check with the city to find out if they have used their powers of expropriation yet. Steven Pettigrew’s delegation on July 24 touched on the effect on people’s lives so Councillor Starchuk should be well aware of this issue.”
Rice said the net impact to the park’s tree canopy is being “misrepresented” by the city, which says overall, there will be an increase in the tree count.
“The destruction of the bog and loss of trees in the road right of way are the items that are contrary to Surrey’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Sustainability Charter. The removal of the bog and preliminary tree clearing will lead to the mortality of the remaining trees,” he added. “Building roads through parks is a 20th century solution that doesn’t hold water in the modern era. Speaking of holding water, the removal of the bog will further stress Bonaccord Creek and its ability to provide valuable wildlife habitat.”
Meanwhile, a rally is planned for Sept. 16th outside Surrey City Hall next month. Organizers say the event aims to “force Surrey council to honour their commitment to the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot movement” and “push back against Surrey council’s abuse of power.”
World renowned environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki is set to attend the rally and, according to a media advisory, will speak to the importance of environmental rights, as well as “Surrey Council’s failure to live up to its commitments to the Blue Dot movement” after signing a declaration in 2016.
Led by the David Suzuki Foundation, the Blue Dot movement is a national effort to amend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include the right to a healthy environment.
Starchuk rejected the notion that Surrey isn’t being transparent, when contacted by the Now-Leader last week. He also said the city is, in fact, living up to its Blue Dot commitment.
“I think we are remaining committed to that,” he told the Now-Leader. “This is a specific project in this park and at the end of the day, the net result is more parkland, more trees and I think in the general area, better traffic flow, which reduces idling and therefore greenhouse gas emissions, which goes back to Blue Dot Movement – a right to a healthy environment.”
said initially, he “completely understood” residents’ issues with the planned road through Hawthorne Park.
“I thought, ‘Holy crap, a road right down the middle of this thing? But we’ve taken that road and pushed it far south toward the edge and it was really a smart move in protecting some of the most natural parts of the park…. and you had the ability to move your services on 104th Avenue to 105th, and create a road, all at the same time to have minimal disruption.
“At the same time, we’re grooming an adjacent park area and adding more space,” Starchuk continued. “When I take a look at what we’re doing as a whole, it actually improves some of the environment that’s there in the overall picture.”
He added: “There are no barriers to what’s going on,” he said. “The city has not deviated from any kind of policy…. It’s being done in the way it’s intended to be done.”
See the city’s plans at surrey.ca/city-services/22562.aspx.
For more information on opponents’ efforts, visit savesurreyparks.ca, which mimics the design of the City of Surrey’s website.