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Disappointment, elation, as South Campbell Heights proposal paused by Metro board

Environmentalists, industry advocates weigh in on Surrey’s plan for industrial expansion
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Metro Vancouver’s board of directors voted Friday (Jan. 28) to send a proposal to develop South Campbell Heights lands for employment back to Metro staff for discussion of concerns that have been raised. (File photo/City of Surrey graphic)

Reactions ranged from disappointment to elation following the Jan. 28 decision by Metro Vancouver’s board of directors to send the proposal for expanding industry into the environmentally sensitive South Campbell Heights area back to the drawing board.

At its virtual meeting Friday (Jan. 28) the board approved, by a narrow 64-61 margin, a motion of referral from director – and Surrey councillor – Linda Annis that sends the proposed amendment to the Regional Growth Strategy back to Metro Vancouver staff for discussion of concerns raised by directors with City of Surrey staff.

“We were disappointed,” said Surrey Board of Trade executive director Anita Huberman, who noted that SBOT had spoken before the Metro Vancouver board during a preliminary hearing on the plan in October.

“There is a significant need to increase the supply of industrial land in Surrey and protect the supply of supporting lands,” Huberman said.

She added the decision, which effectively stalls progress on the proposal until after the election of a new Metro Vancouver board later this year, means “we’re going to lose business interest in the land.”

“It could have ensured us a leadership role (in business) in the Cascadia corridor,” she said.

But Rachael Groat, who presented on behalf of Friends of Hazelmere-Campbell Valley, said she was delighted that sufficient Metro Vancouver directors had taken heed of the arguments of environmentalists.

“I’m grateful our voices were heard – they were clearly listening,” she said.

In October, Metro Vancouver had given conditional approval to Surrey’s request to move the Urban Containment Boundary to allow mixed light industrial use in the 600-acre area – which also includes the Brookswood aquifer and through which the Little Campbell River flows.

But at the latest meeting opponents of the plan, including scientists and environmental advocates – and the Semiahmoo First Nation – reiterated their view that the plan would endanger salmon in the river and threaten other key wildlife habitat, as well as posing a risk of polluting the aquifer and causing major erosion and flooding due to run-off from hard surfaces such as buildings and pavement.

While Surrey claimed that key environmental areas would actually be protected by the plan, and that much further study and consultation would follow Metro Vancouver’s approval of the amendment, opponents said study to this point, rather than looking at impacts, had only included taking an inventory of environmentally-sensitive areas.

Further, they noted, SFN had only been consulted at the 11th hour on the plan.

“The City of Surrey could have handled the consultation better,” Huberman acknowledged, while saying she believes there is a way forward that could accommodate the need to create jobs and encourage business, “but would work, at the same time, to mitigate environmental concerns.”

Groat said she was also pleased that the views of the SFN had also been weighed in the decision.

“Their community is likely going to be the definition of the “downstream effect” of such development. (The decision) says proper relationship building and proper consultation need to be happening, and I think that’s great.”

Dr. Peter Stepney, who also presented in opposition to the amendment, said he thinks even more directors would have been swayed by environmental arguments had presentations not been limited to three minutes, rather than the five minutes that presenters had been told they would have to speak.

“I suspect that, had the presenters been able to convey the entire content of their presentations, rather than a hastily shortened version, the vote may have been a little more in favor of defeating Surrey’s attempt to move the containment boundary,” he said in an email to Peace Arch News.

“(Annis’) motion will, I hope, give the politicians and bureaucrats a little time to better consider all the aspects of this issue, rather than just playing the ‘employment lands’ card over and over again,” he added.

The decision to refer the proposed amendment came despite impassioned pleas from director (and Surrey mayor) Doug McCallum, who attempted, unsuccessfully, to have Annis’ motion ruled out of order.

“If you refer it, it gets stopped unconditionally,” he said.

Other directors had raised the notion that referring the proposal, submitted by Surrey as an amendment to the 2040 Regional Growth Strategy, essentially kills it for the near future.

Metro Vancouver is in the process of transitioning into its not-yet-approved 2050 strategy, and it’s likely the proposal – to move Metro Vancouver’s urban containment boundary to allow mixed industrial use in the South Campbell Heights/Little Campbell River area – would have to be re-submitted by Surrey as part of the new plan.

READ ALSO: Metro to decide Jan. 28 on South Campbell Heights redesignation

But Annis said that, as much as she supports industrial development for the city, “I was not elected to ignore the residents of Surrey.”

She said she had received over 900 letters from residents in the space of a week that raised concerns about Metro Vancouver signing off on Surrey’s plan.

“What they have said over and over is, ‘Why wasn’t (there) proper consultation with residents and with the (SFN)?’” she noted.

Following the meeting Annis said she considers her motion “putting a pause on it while the city does its due diligence.”

“I’m all about economic development for the city and we do need more light industrial space,” she said, adding she believes the area could accommodate more industry while still protecting environmental habitat.

“This (proposal) was being rushed through. There is a need for us to do it slowly and properly – it will be a win-win for everybody.”

Industrial advocates, including Chris Gardner of the Independent Contractors and Business Association, noted that “there is an acute shortage of industrial land” throughout Metro Vancouver.

“The supply chain is not as robust as we thought it was – we need to de-risk the supply chain by moving it closer to home,” he said.

McCallum and fellow proponents (and Surrey councillors) Allison Patton and Laurie Guerra underlined the view that consultation has been ongoing and that further detailed consultation with stakeholders would follow approval of the amendment by Metro Vancouver.

But it appeared that a major sticking point with many directors opposed to the plan was the nature of the consultation that has taken place thus far with SFN.

The nation had formally written all directors expressing their opposition to approving the plan at this point.

“The biggest part of my concern is that consultation is not a box you tick,” Chief Harley Chappell told the meeting.

“It’s an ongoing process.”

SFN councillor Joanne Charles told directors that consultation with the First Nation on the plan amounted to some 14 hours of meetings and that it was still “in its infancy.”

In response to directors’ questions, she said all meetings so far had been with staff, and not face-to-face with Surrey council.

“We don’t have that kind of relationship, unfortunately,” she said.

While some directors pushed back against the idea of Metro Vancouver dictating to municipalities how they should run their own business, others cited many delegations from scientists and environmental experts that industrial development could catastrophically affect the environment in the Little Campbell River watershed.

“I’m not sure how many more scientists we need to hear from,” said director Jen McCutcheon, voicing her opposition to the plan.

READ ALSO: Video offers top 10 reasons to oppose Surrey’s South Campbell Heights development plan

Other concerns raised by board members included the plan’s potential for contributing to climate change through greenhouse gases, as TransLink has said the area is not adequately served by transit, which would mean that workers in industry in the area would be predominantly using vehicles to get to and from work.

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