South Surrey senior fights for parkland

Sybil Rowe and neighbour Richard Gardiner want this South Surrey green space formally recognized as a park. - Alex Browne
Sybil Rowe and neighbour Richard Gardiner want this South Surrey green space formally recognized as a park.
— image credit: Alex Browne

A South Surrey senior is wondering why her mayor and council won’t take five minutes to hear her presentation as a delegation to a regular council meeting.

Grandview Heights resident Sybil Rowe, 78, wants to make sure that “majestic evergreens” along 168 Street from 24 Avenue to 32 Avenue –  which she feels are integral to the character of her neighbourhood – receive formal heritage designation in future development plans.

And she wants the city to formally dedicate a nine-acre property – a former horse farm – one the east side of 168 Street (in the 2700 block) as a green park.

She’s gathered 730 signatures from area residents as part of a petition supporting her proposal and prepared a statement to read to council.

“I timed it by my microwave,” she said. “It takes just under three minutes to read. Even with handing over the petition to them, I would have taken only five minutes of their time.”

Instead, she said, council has referred her application to appear as a delegation to an April 16 meeting of the Parks and Recreation, Sports and Tourism committee.

City clerk Jane Sullivan explained that while it’s council’s decision to refer a delegation request to an advisory committee, the usual rationale for doing it is to gain more information about the issue.

“It does happen a lot,” she said. “It depends what kind of request it is and how many things are rolled into it. A lot of times when they see a delegation request come in they decide it should go to committee first. A lot of times there’s a better result if a good, frank discussion can happen.”

Sullivan said a matter going to committee does not preclude a recommendation being made for it to return to council.

But Rowe is not entirely satisfied with the explanation, feeling that a discussion at committee level has no guarantee of going further.

“A committee has no power to make decisions,” she said. “Mayor and council have that power.”

Having gone door to door gathering signatures since January, she feels “slighted,” by the decision, she said.

“All these people who signed my petition trusted me – I feel I owe them something,” she said.

In her presentation, she notes that residents expressed “sadness, fear and anger, and above all, their feelings of impotence in the face of this relentless movement to urbanize Grandview Heights.”

Over and over, she wrote, people said there is “too much development; it is too dense; they are cutting down all the trees.”

Rowe told Peace Arch News she was repeatedly thanked for her effort – and the comments cut across lines of gender, age, ethnicity and income brackets.

She said she often heard that “it doesn’t matter what we say, they will do what they want.”

“Most people shook their heads and said ‘good luck with that,’” she said, adding with a laugh that she has become known as “that crazy tree lady” in the neighbourhood.

One of the few willing to help her, she acknowledged, is neighbour Richard Gardiner, who helped her draft her presentation and witness signatures on her petition.

Rowe said her own views have evolved during the process of canvassing neighbours – while she began with a concern for protecting the trees that made her home on 26 Avenue seem like “a paradise” when she first moved in 12 years ago, she has realized that voracious patterns of high-density development without adequate planning for park areas destroys, rather than creates, neighbourhoods.

“People are desperate for parks,” she said, adding that she is not opposed to orderly development, provided it can retain some of the area’s “natural splendour.”

“We’re not NIMBYs,” she said.

While she said that she has heard from residents that the former horse-farm property, owned by the city, is slated to be a park, she has been unable to get a straight answer from councillors or city staff.

And although she will take her presentation to the April 16 committee meeting she remains determined that the voices of those who signed her petition will be heard.

The simplest way would be for council to hear her delegation, she said.

“Let’s face it,” she said. “I’m a damn nuisance at city hall.”


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