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Surrey’s South Campbell Heights land re-designation plan moves forward

‘11th-hour’ involvement of First Nations criticized
Metro Vancouver’s board of directors voted Friday (Oct. 29, 2021) to move the City of Surrey’s request to redesignate South Campbell Heights lands for employment use forward. (File photo/City of Surrey graphic)

Metro Vancouver’s board of directors has voted in favour of moving Surrey’s request to re-designate lands in South Campbell Heights for employment use forward, with two noting their support was cautious and another expressing hers emphatically.

On Friday afternoon – following more than five hours of delegations and debate – the directors voted 82-52 in favour of initiating the process to amend regional land-use designations for the area, including extension of the urban containment boundary.

The motion supported was to also give first, second and third reading to the necessary regional growth strategy amendment bylaw, and direct staff to seek comment from local First Nations prior to consideration of final reading, which is anticipated in January.

Given that the amendment was classified as minor – due to the existing ‘Special Study Area’ designation, which identifies the city’s intent to seek future land-use changes there – the decision required only a 50-per-cent-plus-one majority to pass.

Twenty-nine delegations (30 people in all) addressed the board ahead of the vote, including area residents and business owners, an environmental lawyer, the head of the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce, two Langley physicians and a 23-year-old University of Victoria graduate.

The latter, Harrison Rush, described the city’s proposal – which seeks to redesignate 160.8 hectares on the South Surrey-Langley Township border for employment use while protecting one third of the total subject area under a conservation and recreation designation – as “unjust, unreasonable and unnecessary.”

Rush, noting he voted for the current Surrey mayor on the basis of commitments expressed to preserve and protect the area, said the younger generation is “tired of promises and talk” from the City of Surrey, and “tired of decisions being made for us.”

“We have to live with the consequences of your actions,” Rush said.

The area in question is bounded by 20 Avenue to the north, 196 Street to the east, 8 Avenue to the south and approximately 186 Street to the west. It is outside of the agricultural land reserve, sits atop the Brookswood aquifer and encompasses 72 properties.

Surrey council in July – following a six-hour public hearing – authorized staff to submit the regional growth strategy and regional context statement amendment application to the Metro board, and on Oct. 8, Metro’s regional planning committee voted, with four directors opposed, to move it forward.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver committee moves South Campbell Heights plan forward

Friday, proponents of the plan reiterated the positive impact that redesignating the lands for employment use will have in helping address a “critical” shortage of industrial land in the region.

City of Surrey manager of community planning Preet Heer told the board that demand for the space is outpacing supply at a 2:1 ratio, and that businesses that have expressed interest in the South Campbell Heights area have included a company looking to manufacture mRNA vaccines.

One proponent to address the board said that the inability to secure 150,000-175,000 square feet of space in the area to consolidate a fireplace-manufacturing business led instead to the expansion of an existing location in Ferndale, Wash. and the opening of a further location in Texas.

It meant, despite a “very sincere desire to grow operations in our own backyard,” that approximately 75 local jobs went south, said Jonathan Burke.

Business Council of B.C president and chief executive officer Greg D’Avignon said there is “unequivocal support” for the plan among firms his organization represents.

South Langley doctor Kim Stepney was among opponents to speak and told the board that the effects of climate change shouldn’t be ignored in approving developments. Noting the recent summer’s “unprecedented” heat-related illness and deaths, Stepney said urbanizing the area will only exacerbate the problem, by increasing heat and pollution, while also decreasing the tree canopy and putting the unconfined aquifer at risk.

Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell said a key concern for him – in addition to potential impacts to food security and a need to improve water quality in the band’s traditional territories – has been the lack of opportunity to properly engage in the conversation.

In response to a question from director Mary-Ann Booth regarding the city’s efforts to meet with the SFN, Chappell said often, many issues that could be addressed early on aren’t because such efforts take place “at the eleventh hour.”

“We hear, we read it on the media and unfortunately, we’re never engaged in that,” Chappell said. “Kind of eleventh hour, we come to the table.”

Heer said a meeting between the city and SFN is planned for Monday (Nov. 1).

In debating the motion, a number of directors – including White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker – expressed support for referring the proposal back for more studies and consultation.

“We keep talking about one specific part of what we’re doing here – it’s industrial lands this time, it’s agricultural lands the next time, it’s rural lands, it’s lands for housing and so on,” Walker said. “We need to talk about this all together and at once, not just identify one piece and decide that’s what we’re going to work on today or this week and then next week we’re going to worry about the ramifications.”

Metro staff advised voting on the motion that was on the table first and, if that was defeated, a referral motion could then be considered.

Other directors expressed concern with blocking another municipality’s plans.

“We can’t get so muddied in the weeds here. Our job is the look at the facts, we’re not here to supervise other individual cities, other individual members,” said Delta Mayor George Harvie.

“I have no concerns, because this is only for third reading, and the next step in the process will contain rigorous levels of oversight.”

“We need to respect the jurisdiction of Surrey here,” agreed Delta Coun. Dylan Kruger.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, describing himself as a “strong supporter” of the environment, blamed “the very farmers that are speaking today” with killing off oysters and shellfish in White Rock and Crescent Beach through the use of fertilizers and pesticides “a whole number of years ago, when I was very, very young.”

He also took the opportunity to criticize the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, admonishing them for refusing an offer by the city’s of $1 million to help clean up the Little Campbell Hatchery, which he said “will not survive another year.”

READ MORE: Motion to donate Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club to Surrey defeated

Surrey Coun. Linda Annis said she would “reluctantly” support the application, “with a caveat that the city does a much better job of working more closely with environmental groups, because clearly we’re not hearing what they’re saying,” as well as the SFN.
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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