To no one’s surprise, Surrey council last week approved a road through Hawthorne Park.
It’s not that the proposal wasn’t controversial – it was, it is and it will be. The unanimous vote was due to Surrey’s single-minded determination to have an LRT line built between Newton and Guildford; the fact that every member of council is part of the Surrey First team; and a determination to ignore any and all arguments against the plan, no matter how reasonable they were.
Opponents booed and hissed as council approved the plan, and have vowed to make the road an election issue. The alternate approval process used by the city to determine if the park designation should be removed from the land that will be used to build 105 Avenue was deeply flawed, and members of council were well aware of that. Nonetheless, that was the only concession they were willing to make to democracy.
One year from now, there will be a civic election. Unlike 2014, when she rode Dianne Watts’ coattails into office, Mayor Linda Hepner will have to stand on her own record of four years as mayor. Her Surrey First party won’t be able to depend on donations from developers to steamroll opposition candidates, as the province is severely limiting the amount that can be donated to campaigns.
Hepner will undoubtedly cite her leadership on LRT, a project she desperately hopes will at least start by the time the vote occurs. In 2014, she promised that the line would be all but complete by that time.
What she won’t talk about is how she and council ignored legitimate concerns about cutting a popular North Surrey park in two, or how the construction period will all but eliminate use of the park for an extended period. Nor will she acknowledge that one of the main reasons 105 Avenue has to be built (in council’s mind, at least) is that 104 Avenue is being reduced to a two-lane road for most of its length between King George Boulevard and 152 Street. This will begin almost as soon as construction starts on the LRT line, and the two lanes will remain long after the LRT line is complete.
This will lead to monumental traffic jams there and increased congestion on 100 Avenue (where the city has already cut down hundreds of trees to widen the road) and 108 Avenue.
The precedent set by extending 105 Avenue and cutting through a park will be followed if council gets its way and builds a second phase of LRT down Fraser Highway. The Green Timbers forest will be hacked away on each side of Fraser Highway to accommodate the corridor.
There are some residents who are perfectly content with the city cutting a road through a park, and ignoring the voices of neighbours who will be most deeply affected. Others are indifferent, most likely because they do not live in the neighbourhood and have never been to the park.
For those who have paid attention to this issue, the council vote has stiffened their resolve to change the way things are done in Surrey. It will be an uphill battle, but the best time to start to make change is during an election campaign.
Most people won’t recognize it, but the 2018 campaign has already begun.
Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.
(NOTE: An earlier version of this opinion column referred to council’s unanimous Hawthorne Park vote as 9-0, when in fact Coun. Bruce Hayne was out of the country on city business.)