Alex Browne photo                                Protest organizer Sandy McNamee and Surrey’s Steven Pettigrew (of the Save Hawthorne Park campaign) discuss Tuesday the importance of tree retention.

Alex Browne photo Protest organizer Sandy McNamee and Surrey’s Steven Pettigrew (of the Save Hawthorne Park campaign) discuss Tuesday the importance of tree retention.

Protesters resist Johnston Road tree-cutting

Last-ditch effort seeks to halt removal of mature liquidambars by White Rock

A small but vocal group of protesters took to the streets at the intersection of North Bluff Road and Johnston Road twice this week in a last-ditch attempt to save a sidewalk row of mature trees eyed for removal.

White Rock resident Sandy McNamee, and a handful of others – including North Surrey ‘Save Hawthorne Park’ activist Steven Pettigrew – carried placards Tuesday morning, invited passing cars to honk, passed out contact numbers for council members and solicited signatures for a petition.

McNamee returned Thursday and said it is all part of an attempt to stall the impending toppling of liquidambar (sweetgum) trees on the east side of White Rock’s “gateway” – the 1500-block of Johnston Road.

“It’s National Tree Day in Canada on Sept. 27,” said Peninsula environmentalist David Riley. “In White Rock, we like to celebrate it by cutting a few down.”

In a statement issued late Thursday morning, city communications co-ordinator Ashley Gregerson said they “recognize that this is an emotional situation for some residents.”

“Safety is our primary concern. The city is committed to upholding and improving safety in White Rock for our residents and visitors.”

The trees, adjacent to excavations for the 23-storey PARC Retirement Living development, were listed as being in “poor condition” in a recent corporate report.

But McNamee disputed the latest decision on the Johnston Road trees. She said information provided by the city is “misleading” and contradicts arborists’ reports from both 2014 and 2016 which said the trees were not at risk and recommended retaining them, along with others in the uptown area.

“What has changed is the construction there – the new development nearby,” she told Peace Arch News, adding that she has been following the process of planning for redevelopment of the Johnston Road corridor “from day one.”

Riley said the trees are likely seen as an obstruction for the builders of the PARC development.

“It would probably be a lot easier for the builder to pour concrete from this side of the property (from Johnston Road) than from the other side (George Street),” he said.

Gregerson’s statement said the developer was anticipated to apply to remove two trees from the centre median and one from the sidewalk, “to allow safe temporary access to the west side of the PARC construction site and mitigate traffic disruptions.”

The work – expected to include removal of the centre median and some curbs – is in keeping with council’s approved concept design for Johnston Road, it adds.

“It is a standard practice for the city to process these applications and work with developers to find the best solution.”

Riley questioned the logic.

“But this could be a one-off development – 2008 could happen all over again. And you don’t create a new vision for a whole street just because one new house is built. If this building is replicated (in this block), can we not look into whether the trees could fit into it? We’ve had a lot of public process on this, but residents never get to hear how that material has been digested. I think that’s why people are loath to provide input.”

McNamee said the decision to cut the trees runs counter to previously solicited public opinion.

“A petition with 1,107 signatures urging the mayor and council to preserve mature trees on Johnston Road has been ignored,” she added.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Pettigrew, who said he and other ‘Save Hawthorne Park’ supporters had joined McNamee’s protest “to show our solidarity on environmental causes.”

(The residents campaigning against Surrey’s plan to build a road through Hawthorne Park have been given a deadline of Sept. 22 to collect 30,372 signatures in opposition, or the project will go ahead.)

Pettigrew said common environmental concerns transcend geographic boundaries.

“It’s not ‘my people,’ it’s not ‘your people’ – it’s everybody working together,” he said.

“Whether it’s Surrey city or White Rock city, they (civic governments) are not listening to people. It’s ridiculous what they have us go through.”

UBC urban forestry professor Cecil Konijnendijk, who has offered support to McNamee’s protest, told PAN by email that “it takes a long time before newly planted trees can replace the benefits provided by large, mature trees. All efforts possible should be made to retain and protect them, also during development.”

Gregerson described this week’s situation as “ongoing.”