COLUMN: Future of trees is up in the air

Proposed removal of heritage trees a divisive issue.

The proposed removal of 332 heritage trees on an upland portion of the Henry Bose farm, part of which is slated for development, is far too much.

It will create a moonscape on the hillside between 60 and 64 Avenues, in the 16400-block, and that current environment will never be duplicated.

This is not to say the land should be left completely as is. It is within the urban growth area and, unless the city wishes to buy it as a park, should be open for development.

But there are far better ways to develop such a unique site.

The city has struck an agreement with the developer, Platinum Enterprises, to retain three heritage buildings on the property – the milk cooling shed, Henry Bose house and calf barn. These are significant heritage assets on one of the most prominent farms in Surrey – one which played a major role in the city’s history.

It’s important to point out that this development is for one portion of the historic Bose farm. The large barn on 64 Avenue is on another part of the farm, and that property is also slated for development.

Single-family homes and townhouses are proposed for the property. Is it not possible to site them in such a way that much of the mature forest is preserved? There are 168 western red cedar trees on the property, 18 Douglas firs and 38 broadleaf maples. All of these trees are significant natural species in Surrey, and there are limited numbers of mature trees in urban areas – particularly all together in one forested area.

There has been significant tree preservation on other townhouse sites in Surrey, notably in Sullivan and, in my view, the townhouses built in such developments are far more desirable than those built on an open, cleared site.

When this issue came before Surrey council as it voted 4-3 to send the issue to public hearing, it was clear there were many concerns at the council level. Mayor Dianne Watts was away, but the three dissenting councillors all said the tree removal was too much. Coun. Mary Martin, who chaired the meeting, did not vote, but also raised concerns.

It is now up to the public.

Do people who live nearby, and those from other parts of Surrey who have a passion for the environment and heritage, want to see such widespread destruction of a forest which is over 100 years old? Do Surrey residents want to see nothing but houses as they drive along 64 Avenue and start to climb Bose Hill?

The public hearing into the proposal takes place on Monday night at city hall. Even though it is slated for a time when many people are away on vacation, there is a good chance there will be significant participation.

If there is, that will be a good sign that many people in Surrey care about the environment, heritage and aesthetics. If the public is indifferent, perhaps that means that the developers should proceed with their plan.

There has been an increased and long-overdue interest on the part of the city in looking at the environment, before simply approving development plans. While some developers get frustrated by this. the net effect is a more livable city and homes that will retain their value.

In neighbourhoods such as Sullivan and Fleetwood, where many mature trees have been retained, the communities continue to have much of their former look. Many new developments have enhanced the area.

In others, such as East Clayton, where hardly a tree has remained, there is virtually no sign of what once was. While the new neighbourhood had most urban services, its heritage has been obliterated, and wildlife have been displaced.

Development on the Bose farm can go one of two ways. It will be up to the public to let council know their preference, and then it will be up to council to make what will likely be a difficult decision.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.



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