Despite garnering a lot of publicity, a heritage oak tree on 74 Avenue in Clayton Heights seems destined to be chopped down.
The City says the tree is in the way of where a new sidewalk will be built outside the soon-to-be constructed Regent Road Elementary School.
Sheena Fisher, park operations coordinator for the City of Surrey’s Land Development Department, met with a group of about 10 concerned area residents at the school site to tell them why the tree couldn’t be retained.
“Engineering has quite a few different requirements — as far as grades, and cross-sections, and falls, and also a whole bunch of utilities — that we need to get in, both under the road profile and within the new frontage that we’re achieving,” Fisher explained. “That includes parking, sidewalks, street lighting, and then there’s also the impacts that are coming in from the school side.”
Fisher said the tree was not on the school’s property, but on city land which would need to be developed to make way for a boulevard. “(The tree is) in direct conflict with the sidewalk.”
Sheena Fraser, from the @CityofSurrey, explains why a heritage oak tree on 74 Ave. in #clayton must be cut down to make way for Regent Road Elementary. See story soon on https://t.co/cV4Xqh98Mt pic.twitter.com/qHre9hkFrQ
— Cloverdale Reporter (@CloverdaleNews) April 15, 2020
Fisher added the tree will be near the pick-up and drop-off area of the school. “So it is really important for us that we have a really safe boulevard, generally, but in this location, where it’s going to be really congested, really busy, lots of kids, ensuring that we meet the safety standards of engineering are going to be really critical,” Fisher noted.
The tree in question was brought to the public’s attention a few months ago, in January, when area resident Jim Foulkes started to advocate that the tree be saved because he said it was a heritage tree.
After Foulkes raised a ruckus, the tree was discussed at a Feb. 12 meeting of the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission. Michael Gibbs, the SHAC commissioner, said at the time those present at the meeting agreed trees that have an aesthetic and historical significance should not be lost.
(The tree is located at 18717 74 Ave. — the former George Whitehead Farm — along what was formerly known as Regent Road, pre-1957.)
The tree was then placed in the City’s hands to determine what would happen to it.
Fisher said a review was recently completed and the school board would be starting their frontage works — which includes chopping down the tree — very shortly.
“It’s morally wrong to cut down the tree,” Foulkes said to Fisher, “when you could just adjust the plan.”
Area resident (and Black Press Media columnist) Frank Bucholtz also expressed his concern. Bucholtz said the City pays lip service to preserving heritage trees, but he rarely sees any protected at all.
“Development and real estate rule this city and they have ruled it since the 1950s,” explained Bucholtz. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened in East Clayton.” Bucholtz said all the large trees in East Clayton cut down by developers.
“The root protection zone for this tree is almost eight metres. So it’s fairly significant,” said Fisher. “We wouldn’t be able to chase enough space, to give it enough root zone, for it to survive long term.”
“Someone has to take the positive attitude that it can be done,” added Foulkes. “This can be done if we do this. That’s what’s missing here.”
Fisher admitted that if the design was changed, then the tree could be saved. She said if the sidewalk was to go around the tree, and thus onto school property, the school board would have to be willing to make the accommodation, but that the planning department wasn’t going to ask the school board to look at that as an option.
“It can be done,” said Fisher. “Currently, engineering is not willing to relax their standards to the point they would need to save this tree. Planning is not interested in engaging the school board to redesign their project at this point in the (process).”
“They moved the freeway for Charlie Perkins’ tree,” shouted a man in attendance.
Fisher then said the City took a long look at the project from an engineering perspective. “After reviewing it, the City decided it’s important for us to keep a functional boulevard.”
Bucholtz said he understands why City Hall is very reluctant to make accommodations for these types of things.
“Those few of us that are interested in the environment, and the history of this city, get shouted out by developers, realtors, and other people who have money and influence — both political and otherwise,” he explained. “We’ve lived in Clayton for 33 years. We know what this community is like. We don’t want to see this community destroyed and become exactly like East Clayton, where there is not a tree standing. We don’t want this area developed like that. I’m not very impressed that the City can’t be a little more flexible on some of these issues.”
Gibbs told Fisher the City’s departments, the school board, and the heritage committee need to work on projects from the beginning so they can work to accommodate the wishes of residents when it comes to big projects.
“They need to work together to satisfy the taxpayers who are paying for this,” said Gibbs. “It’s silly for us to be paying to take down heritage trees.”
“It’s all owned by taxpayers,” added Bucholtz. “It’s all owned by all of us. Whether it’s the school district, or the City, it’s all owned by taxpayers.”
Foulkes said he’s not giving up yet. He said plans to contact everyone at City Hall to let them know the tree can be saved and to offer advice on possible solutions to save the tree.
Fisher added that she was going to take the residents concerns back to the City and let them know residents don’t want the tree chopped down.
“That tree is not coming down,” added resident Lorraine Jones. “If I have to chain myself to that tree, I will. It’s not going anywhere.”