An aerial view shows the clover-shaped property for which a 40-metre telecommunications tower has been proposed. (Contributed image)

40-metre telecommunications tower eyed for Surrey farmland

Landowner voices concerns, says notification was lacking

Planned installation of a 40-metre cellphone tower on rural Surrey property is raising concerns for area landowners and farmers.

Surrey council approved the development variance permit that enabled the height – which is more than triple that allowed for in current city bylaws – on April 20.

According to a City of Surrey planning report, Cypress Land Services Ltd., on behalf of Freedom Mobile and Rogers, asked to erect a multi-carrier telecommunications tower and equipment compound in the centre of property at 4610 and 4630 160 St. (Officials with Rogers Communications clarified Friday that “it is not a Rogers project.” The company “has expressed an interest in co-locating if the tower is constructed,” the manager of public affairs said.)

The location of the tower – approximately 300 metres from 160 Street – “will provide increased service to the surrounding area” and “should have minimal impact on the agricultural land and farm operations,” the report states.

However, Craig Diamond – whose company owns several properties in the area, including one that abuts the cloverleaf-shaped site eyed for the tower – said he and a farmer he leases to disagree, citing concerns around the potential impact to crops and those who work on the farms, as well as with the size of the tower itself.

“It’s an ugly looking thing and it’s also very dangerous,” he said, referring to the uncertainty of effects from electromagnetic emissions.

An April 16 letter to Diamond from his tenant and fellow landowner Money Sandhu of Greenway Farms Ltd. describes the 40-metre height as “overwhelming.”

“In addition to the visual pollution this will cause, the uncertainty of the short and long term health effects to us and our workers is a concern to us,” Sandhu writes.

“Their worry can also have possible consequences to our farm operations, especially in this tight farm labour market.”

Coun. Jack Hundial, who chairs the city’s agriculture and food policy advisory committee (AFPAC), said he, too, initially had concerns with the project. He was among three on the AFPAC to vote against recommending staff support the application, according to minutes of the committee’s March 3 meeting.

Hundial said Wednesday (May 6), however, that he felt comfortable with it after doing more research.

“There really was no other viable place to put it,” he said.

“The power’s already there, the building’s already in the middle of the property. To look at another location to put up a tower, now you’re looking at massing something else on farmland, which makes even less land for farming.

“It’s always a trade-off between what’s on the farmland now and the farm use of what we have.”

Hundial noted the site is an active farm, and that the property owner is not concerned with the tower’s placement.

He acknowledged it will be tall, “but if you look at the geography of the area, it covers such a wide area, as well.”

Diamond said he’s also concerned with the notification process that unfolded, explaining that he only learned of the proposal and its status via a “postcard” from the city in mid-April – just a week before council’s April 20 authorization of the development variance permit that was sought to enable the 40-metre height. City zoning bylaws currently cap such structures at 12 metres.

“Clearly, the plan was not well advertised,” he said.

“We were not given a chance to speak to it. We found out about it late in the game. They claim they sent us letters, which we never saw before, and it’s a travesty.”

The city report states that 18 notification packages regarding the proposed tower were sent out in January, to property owners within 240 metres of the site, and that two residents responded with concerns regarding the height; possible detrimental effects on livestock, produce and migratory birds; and the lack of need for a tower at that location.

Jean Lamontagne, the city’s general manager of planning and development, said Friday (May 1) that the development variance process does not trigger a public hearing. Any correspondence received in response to public notification – which council authorized April 6 – is included in council’s package so that it may be reviewed ahead of any decision, he said.

Diamond noted that Crescent Beach residents last year convinced Freedom Mobile against proceeding with plans to erect a cellphone tower in that community. Company officials at the time told the residents they would “look at alternative locations over the next little while and investigate other options that were identified to help determine feasibility.”

READ MORE: Planned Crescent Beach cell tower to be relocated

And last September, Fraser Heights residents were vocal in their opposition to a proposal by Rogers to build wireless telecommunications in that community. The plan was to replace two existing streetlights with structures that included antennas, boosting the poles’ height to 50 feet from 30 feet.

Hundial said public opposition to that proposal “overwhelmed the approval process.”

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