Brace for yet another battle for Bear Creek Park.
A public survey and mailouts are expected to be launched at the end of April or early May as preliminary designs are being prepared on the City of Surrey’s controversial plan to connect 84th Avenue between 140th Street and King George Boulevard, but many people have already weighed in on the issue and are firmly entrenched in their views. After that, a corporate report is expected to be brought before council in late May or June to determine the next steps for the project.
But first, the history. The city has been down this road before.
This time around, the Now-Leader has received a steady flow of emails from people in opposition to the connection.
“I strongly oppose SSC’s short-sighted plan to put a road through the crown jewel of Surrey’s Park System,” says Suzanne Barton. “Shame on you.”
Linda Ypenburg calls on council to “halt this ridiculous plan,” Karen Ajun says “providing parking for non-park users should not be a priority,” Sebastian Sajda says “It’s time to speak up against this madness and stop any further plans for the whittling away of this gem of a park,” Paris Koza says the “people of Surrey don’t want more streets, we need more parks,” and so on.
Fourteen years ago, in 2007, the city council of that day abandoned this very project because of intense public opposition to it, after the city had already approved a $600,000 designs study with the idea that the connector would relieve some traffic pressure on 88th Avenue and King George. Dianne Watts, Surrey’s mayor at that time, noted the connection would box Bear Creek Park in by roads on all sides. “That’s not where we want to go,” she said at the time.
Fast forward to July 2013, when the city rejected another controversial bid, by a Hindu temple and a Sikh gurdwara on 140th Street, that would have seen part of the park paved over for a 100-stall parking lot. The city would not enter into a licence agreement with the Laxmi Narayan Mandir and Gurdwara Sahib Brookside to construct a parking lot on city parkland despite the temples having agreed to pony up $400,000 for a public lot.
“We’ve made a decision to not proceed with a licence agreement at this time,” Owen Croy, who was City of Surrey’s parks manager at the time, said in 2013. “We want to preserve the parkland we have and expand our inventory of parks, and this would be contrary to it.”
But the City of Surrey has since softened its approach. The present council not only resurrected the rejected project to connect 84th Avenue between King George and 140th this past February – on a five-to-four vote with Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition majority carrying the day – but the city is also looking to resurrect the rejected 2013 ask for more temple parking as well.
Earlier this month, during a presentation before a city council committee, Councillor Mandeep Nagra remarked that the revived road connector is a “great, great project, long overdue – let’s do it, let’s get it done. At that meeting, Nagra asked city staff if the parking lot between the temples is part of the road project as well, and if it will proceed at the same time.
Jason Colenutt, Surrey’s manager of design and construction, replied, “That’s something that again we’ve received very positive feedback from so it’s definitely something that we’re looking to integrate into the project.
“And once again, we’re looking for a wider public feedback as well but our preliminary engagement with stakeholders has seen this as a very positive feedback, all three of the temples as well as park users have kind-of indicated that this is something that’s a big win for them,” said Colenutt, whose team is leading the development of the 84th Avenue connection project.
Moreover, a Bear Creek Park athletic centre with seating capacity expanded from 800 to 2,20 seats, making it capable of hosting international-level events, will require improved access to the park and preliminary studies indicate 200 more parking stalls will be needed for that alone.
The 84th Avenue project is expected to be done over the next five years with the aim of relieving “over-saturated” traffic on 88th and 72nd Avenues and ultimately, to connect Scott Road to Fraser Highway via 84th once this project is completed and a stretch of 84th between 124th and 128th Streets is also connected.
The city had several options on its plate to improve west-to-east traffic flow through the city. It looked at six-laning 88th Avenue from Scott Road to Fraser Highway at a cost of $50 million, installing a multi-lane roundabout at KGB and 88th for $25 million, “improving” 80th Avenue between King George and 152nd Street at a cost of $50 million, or building a grade-separated interchange at King George and 88th Avenue for $30 million, but chose to connect 84th Avenue between King George and 140th at an estimated cost of $13 million.
It’s alignment will make use of an unopened road allowance at the south end of Bear Creek Park, along the B.C. Hydro powerline right-of-way, that’s been there for more than 100 years and well before Bear Creek Park was officially established in 1978.
At the west, the roadway will run by a large strata property off King George and at the east by Bear Creek Community Church, the gurdwara and the temple. A short section of already paved 84th Avenue that passes by the church will be incorporated into the connection, the church will continue to have access off that road and none of the roadwork will be within the church’s property.
Sixty per cent of the road will be along the hydro right-of-way or stretches that are already paved, one lane each way, with on-street parking, and will cross both Bear Creek and King Creek by way of clear span bridges designed to permit wildlife and fish to migrate unimpeded.
“We’re definitely looking at the wildlife perspective,” said Scott Neuman, Surrey’s general manager of engineering.
According to the city, environmental studies are being done to determine what impact this project will have on neighbouring flora and fauna, in order for it to obtain all regulatory permits required before starting work in environmentally sensitive areas. Field information and reports will be posted on the city’s website.
Neuman said the new connection will see up to 16,000 cars per day and result in a “significant” reduction of traffic on 88th. “As you continue west, with that other connection as well, as you continue over to Scott Road the volume remains generally consistent, it’s around that 13,000 to 15,000 range. It’s important to note that even without this connection, the segment over near Scott Road is already going to get significantly higher regardless of this connection,” he added.
Green Timbers resident John Werring, formerly a senior science advisor with the David Suzuki Foundation, noted the project “has always been defeated due to public interest.
“Now, the way the mayor and the city council are going is they’re trying to ram this thing through, ostensibly saying, ‘Oh there will be public consultation, there will be this, there will be that,’” he said. “The other issue that really galls me is the mayor says, and his councillors say, this road is not going through the park, it’s not going to affect the park, it’s being put on a already existing paved area under the powerlines.
“On 84th Avenue at the east side, that road will definitely go through the park, actually going through a stand of old cottonwood, for about 250 metres, that is within the park boundary,” Werring said. “The issue is here the mayor is saying it’s not going through the park, well it is going through the park. It is a park. It’s signed everywhere, everywhere you look at this, there’s a sign ‘Welcome to your park.’ There’s park trails, part trails that will be intersected, and cut off.”
“I’m just worried that they’re going to be just ramming this through while consultation is taking place,” Werring said. “It’s open meadow, the wildlife in there is just incredible.”
Councillor Steven Pettigrew was propelled into civic politics by his ultimately unsuccessful campaign to rescue Hawthorne Park from the previous Surrey First-dominated council’s plan to push a road through that particular North Surrey park. Ironically Doug McCallum, prior to being elected mayor, lent his support to Pettigrew’s cause in August 2017, leading to Pettigrew joining McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition for a run at council. But seven months after getting elected, Pettigrew parted ways with the SSC to sit as an Independent.
“It comes down to the trees. We’ve lost another 5,000 trees, unprotected trees,” he told the Now-Leader at the time. “I don’t want to be associated with a political party that has that little regard for the environment.”
For Pettigrew, this latest Bear Creek push is deja vu, but on a larger scale.
“Quite honestly, it’s quite exhausting,” he said. “This has now been four years of fighting the same battle, trying to preserve our environment, trying to make sure that we have connectivity between our green spaces and that we have proper living environment for the animals and also for people to enjoy. There are so many parallels between the two different environments. A different council, same thing. We seem to have councils that just love to put roads through parks.”