Surrey planning documents online are often incomplete

I’m finally going back to putting information from over 3500 planning reports into an excel worksheet. I’d done this for tree numbers before, but I didn’t include site coverage, owner and developer names, arborist names, zoning changes or addresses.

I’ve spent the last two days combing through a subset of 27 reports from 2014, filling in as much data as I could. The most frustrating thing is figuring out the site coverage — how much of the lot is covered in buildings and pavement. Many developers fill in the blanks on the city-requested information, but others blatantly leave crucial information blank.

Site coverage is an important number; keeping coverage under 60%, a common maximum allowed by the city, allows drainage and keeps road runoff from polluting rivers, in addition to moderating temperatures during heat waves, and leaving room for trees to grow.

For the 10 developers who didn’t provide total site coverage estimates, I simply looked at their landscape design and used photoshop to count how many pixels were buildings or pavement, and how many were landscape.

The developers that didn’t report total site coverage had a reason: they reported an average of 33%, which was usually only the building area. When I added in pavement, I come up with an average of 72% total site coverage.

For example, this townhouse development in Cloverdale reported 40% coverage. From looking at their landscape plan, it’s obvious that it’s more than that. When I count pixels in photoshop, buildings and pavement take up 92% of the site. Their planning report says the limit is 45%. I guess they decided that zoning requirements are really flexible…when the zoning laws say maximum of 45%, it could mean just buildings if you want it to.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 6.30.55 PM
Landscape plan from report 7913-0162-00

Six of these were townhouse developments; the rest were commercial. It makes sense that they wouldn’t want to draw attention to how much impermeable surfaces they were laying down.

But why would the city allow this sort of thing through so often? I don’t understand it.

—– a few hours later—–

What about this one? Report number 7913-0169-00 at 18699 24 Ave. An industrial building reporting 48.6% site coverage, in a zoning area with a maximum allowable site coverage of 60%. I double-checked, since it sounded too good to be true. Of course it wasn’t true. From this picture, I estimate 80% site coverage, even taking into account the apparently planted roof on the northeast of the building. Approved in July 2014.

7913-0169-00 coverage


Lack of resources for children near new South Surrey elementary school

The snazzy-looking Sunnyside Elementary school building was built at a cost of $14.9 million, to hold up to 450 students.

Sunnyside Elementary School
Front view of Sunnyside in June 2014 before massive area development

Only two years later it is seriously overcrowded, with over 600 students expected this September. In order to make space for those students, 6-10 portables are being sandwiched in on the small grounds (with one small playground, by the way). The highly-lauded music program there is constantly under threat, salvaged only by the diligent efforts of passionate parents, an astounding music teacher, and students who practice every free moment. Other schools in the area face similar challenges.

Rumour has it that the music program may be moved out to a portable this year. Next month we’ll see whether or not that’s true. The portables contrast starkly with the modern architectural design of the original building.

They have no air conditioning or heat. One of my twitter followers said that was absurd, so I confirmed it with a student who was in the that class. She said the only electricity they had was lights and a broken phone. They wore jackets in winter to keep warm, and boiled when it was hot. It was really crowded, too.

Developers don’t get any money for the portables, I guess, because public buildings are astonishingly fancy.

Inside of the new Surrey City Hall, cost over $90 million

Developers insist there aren’t enough houses, and they’re right. People are thrilled that they can buy a townhouse here for under $800,000.


What they’re not thrilled about is how little the city of Surrey has prepared for the children they bring with them. The Sunnyside Parents Facebook Group has a couple posts from parents worried about finding before and after-school care for their children. The latest one said all the childcare spaces near the school are full. I hope she finds something before September!


Several parents I’ve talked to have read the news (thank you, local newspapers like Peace Arch News and Surrey Now), and they decided to enroll their children in Catholic schools or other private schools instead of Sunnyside. But for the parents who didn’t research the issues around Surrey’s massive urbanization efforts, several unpleasant surprises may await as they get ready for the upcoming school year.

On the positive side, I can say for certain that parents already at the school, and the ever-helpful staff and teachers, will do all they can to help new families feel welcome, and to get the help and information they need.

Meanwhile, please keep writing letters to the provincial and city governments about the problems faced by families moving into these newly-densified areas.

Surrey Crime Rates Q2, 2016

Since my most popular posts are my crime rates, here are the most recent crime rates for Surrey. The population numbers are WAY out of date, since the RCMP only has data from 2013 on their website.  But since that’s all I have to go on, well, that’s what we’ll use.

Looks like South Surrey went up in breaking and entering, not surprising since I’ve heard from several friends here about their houses being broken into. Whalley’s still the worst by far for everything, and remember, this is per capita, so it’s not just total numbers, it’s relative numbers, so Whalley is indeed the worst, by far. Newton did pretty well! Except for total criminal code, and I’m not sure what those were.

Disclaimer: I may have made mistakes. If you notice some, please comment and I’ll fix them.

39603_District-maps 2016 Violent Crimes
Total Violent Crimes
39603_District-maps 2016 Property Crimes
Total Property Crimes
39603_District-maps 2016 Total Breaking Entering
Total Breaking and Entering
39603_District-maps 2016 Total CC
Total CC (=Criminal Code)

Surrey BC saves very few forests. Why?

What does it take to have a forest saved from development in Surrey, BC? Here are some of the reasons Grandview Heights must be paved; but there are several groups who are working hard to try guide development so future residents can have beautiful, sustainable, and healthy neighbourhoods.

Individuals and groups of people take turns standing up and being shot down. I’ve been hit by compassion fatigue, myself, seeing how huge the city’s development machine is. It’s hard to keep blogging when every letter or blog post is ignored or shot down. Even Surrey’s own environmental committee members have resigned in protest.

Luckily, when one group or person loses hope, someone else stands up to take their place. Far in the future, historical records will show that many residents did not want to ruin their air quality, water quality, animals habitat and green space. Here’s a small sampling of the hundreds of people who are trying to guide the city’s massive passion for unbridled development:

Sybil Rowe (read about her experience here)

Grandview Heights Stewardship Association

Surrey Students Now

Friends of Hazelmere Campbell Valley

Green Timbers Heritage Society

It takes thousands of people to force governments to make difficult decisions. I was recently in the first State Park of California, Big Basin Redwoods. It took an enormous “coalition of journalists, politicians, artists, businessmen, and scholars” organizing thousands of people statewide to protect those trees from logging.

Does Surrey have enough people to protect the urban forests? Maybe not. Though thousands of residents alternate attending meetings, writing letters, gathering signatures, and meeting with councilmen and city planners, will it ever be enough? It may simply be that there aren’t enough residents with enough wealth or influence to save Surrey’s forests. With the loss of over 28 sq km of wildlife habitat, Grandview Heights, once replete with lush, green forests, will soon be another Clayton Heights but on a larger scale. Relentless, overcrowded, cemented urbanization.

Tips for new residents in Grandview Heights, Surrey BC

If you’re new in Grandview Heights, South Surrey, BC, you’ll really want to know about these things!

Long-term residents have clued me in on some of these fun activities, useful resources and information.


  • Redwood Park (forest walks, labeled trees, and big playground)
  • Sunnyside Park (lots of climbing stuff, green space, and a pool!)
  • Blackie Spit (free parking for Crescent Beach)
  • Bakerview Park (near South Surrey library)
  • Oliver Park (very small but fun, by Sunnyside Elementary)
  • Campbell Valley Regional Park (forest walks, horse trails too, the chickadees will eat sunflower seeds out of your hand)

Fun things to do:

  • Cloverdale Fair (Victoria Day Weekend) – my kids look forward to this every year
  • Semiahmoo Mall (has a small play area that my kids like)
  • Berry Picking!!
  • Further away: Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary has resident Sandhill Cranes that just walk up to you! 4ft tall! And Snow Geese in winter. And you can feed the chickadees out of your hand. They have owls too, if you’re lucky to see them (go early in the day).
  • Fun for rainy days – “Go Bananas” in Langley
  • Art Knapp nursery – has a train, and there’s a pumpkin patch in October
  • Hazelmere Pumpkin Patch – petting zoo and nice pumpkin patch in October
  • Horse Riding – A&T Equestrian does preschool rides, general lessons, and jumping (less dressage). Semiahmoo Stables does preschool rides, general lessons, and dressage (less jumping)

 Summer Camps:

  • Southridge School
  • 4Cats
  • South Surrey Recreation Centre
  • (there are lots more I don’t know about)
  • Precious Seeds Montessori – fun themed summer camps for pre-K/K
  • Creative Kids
  • Horse camps at Semiahmoo Stables or A&T Equestrian
  • Gymnastics at White Rocks Gymnastic and Diving academy


  • White Rock Gymnastics and Diving Academy
  • MyGym (great for preschoolers and babies and birthday parties)
  • Sea Wolves swim team
  • Soccer (my kids don’t play, but I know it’s popular)
  • Music: Tapestry Music teaches all sorts of things; White Rock Music and Dance has cool preschool music classes and lots of dance classes
  • Spray parks: There’s one at the South Surrey Recreation Centre. There are others I don’t know about.
  • Ice Skating: We’ve done classes through the rec centre. Sahana loves it. There are other programs too.
  • Swimming: the old South Surrey indoor pool has a good tot pool but it’s further than the new Grandview Heights pool. There’s an outdoor pool called Sunnyside Pool and lots of my friends like it. It’s near a good playground, too. We’ve enjoyed SwimClo for lessons – it’s super-expensive, but great.
  • Library – South Surrey Library is great. It’s also near Bakerview Park, which is lots of fun.
  • White rock library (part of Lots of DVD selection and you can renew DVDs too (unlike Surrey).
  • Arts Umbrella – one of my kids took a great sketching class there. The other one loved her dance class, but I wished it wasn’t on a cement floor.
  • The Drama Class – highly recommended by one of my friends


  • Sunnyside Elementary – catchment public school, very overcrowded as new houses are built in catchment. But it’s a good school. Has Montessori too (one of Surrey’s “Choice” educational programs, which also include a Fine Arts school and French Immersion. Enrollment by lottery online.)
  • Pacific Heights Elementary – catchment public school…I don’t know as much about this one.
  • Star of the Sea – great Catholic school
  • White Rock Christian Academy – I hear good things about this one, too
  • Southridge – pretty expensive but they do lots of neat activities.
  • Preschools:  I hear about Wind and Tide a lot.

Great local produce – Mary’s Garden

Property Owners’ Association: Grandview Heights Stewardship AssociationYou should get familiar with this website if you’re buying around here somewhere. They tell you how to get info on zoning, upcoming developments, etc. See my blog “” for some depressing things that happen when you don’t know what’s planned for your area.


  • For severe medical problems, we still go up to Vancouver…Surrey’s healthcare is overcrowded. But the hospital is fine, so I hear, and you can probably find a doctor maybe at one of the walk-in clinics?
  • Nearby walk-in clinics – there’s one near Thrifty’s (which isn’t thrifty at all, so I think that name’s pretty funny), and one near Safeway. Either might still be accepting new patients. We go to the one near Safeway (in the same complex as Pure Pharmacy).
  • Also use to find out if there is a wait time at medical clinics (if they are registered). Another hint is to drive out to Cloverdale. There is a medical clinic near Rexall drugs (176/hwy 10) and at least two more clinics on hwy10 near 178. Worth the drive and clinics seem to be less busy than in south surrey/wr.

Dentist: We still go up to Vancouver for ours. One of my friends goes to Dr. Barnes in Rosemary Heights, and says she’s excellent (make appointments far ahead of time).


Overheated and underplanned overdevelopment

When development is allowed to continue solely because of immediate economic benefit, I can tell you what happens, because we see it every day. Without restrictions, checks and balances, and rules to guide economic growth, infrastructure can’t keep up.

I’ve been reading a lot about overcrowded schools in Surrey and Langley. My school will have six new kindergarten classes next year but it’s already past capacity, two years after it was built. Next month we’ll probably hear about the healthcare system again, and after that it’ll be another spate of shootings in Newton. Traffic is getting worse and worse, too.

East Clayton
2001 to 2015 in East Clayton (from Google Earth historical imagery)
time series of clayton
More Clayton images: 1998, 2005, 2012

As they sandwich houses into Clayton way beyond the capacity of schools, while hospitals are still overcrowded and congestion is awful (lack of public transit), they look to the future and set their sites on the next obvious target, Grandview Heights in South Surrey.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 8.00.04 AM.png

Grandview Heights has historically been one of the most treed, greenest areas of Surrey. Many residents, including GrowingUpGrandview and members of the Grandview Heights Stewardship Association have been astonished at the inability of Surrey to leave forests intact and increase density around forests instead of clearcutting everything.

Morgan Heights
Morgan Heights densification in progress

We’ve seen that when immediate economic benefit takes top precedence, public services rapidly become inadequate to support residents. Surrey school trustees pleaded with City Council to mitigate development and allow funds to grow enough to meet residents’ needs. The mayor’s reply means that the “robust economy” is more important than helping people be educated, healthy, and safe.

All this is really a reflection of what’s happening to the ecology itself. Animals, birds, and butterflies (and other beneficial insects) are forced out of their homes as urban hubs and corridors are replaced by high-density housing. Water quality plummets as road runoff increases exponentially without mitigation measures in place. Pollution levels rise as cars pack overcrowded roads, and air quality suffers. What happens to the earth reflects what is happening to the people who live on it.

The city says it can’t afford to put mitigation measures in place. Higher density means more money, which it desperately needs, at the expense of leaving forests and parks for human and plant/animal residents. By the time they’re done with Grandview Heights, it will be completely unrecognizable.

Can’t we build high density developments and surround them with parks and forests within walking distance? Every half-kilometer should have a significant public park, so people can exercise and kids can play. Healthy residents means less burden on the health system, so the city saves money. Long-term benefits of city planning for the people means a city is liveable, economically strong, and desirable.

And with more parks, there will be more room for native plants, animals, birds, and insects, while the enormous amounts of rainfall we see here in this temperate rainforest will be filtered better, to keep salmon-bearing streams clean and productive.

But that’s not a priority in the Vancouver-area. Take a look at this graph I just found from 2004:

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 9.49.09 AM

Overcrowding and overheating at Sunnyside Elementary

Update: I said that the portables would be on the gravel field; I was wrong. They’ll be on the gravel pathway above the field.

Sunnyside Elementary was finished 2 yrs ago and was built to house about 450 students. It’s now holding 520 students. Six to ten portables are supposed to be built in the next couple of years. Next year there will be 5-7 kindergarten classes!

We got our first portable this year. The class barely fits. It’s crowded, and there’s no air conditioning, so it’s hot on warm, sunny days. Two days ago, it was so hot that they held class outside almost all day. There are only three small windows on one side of the portable, and to use the washroom the children have to walk by the parking lot to get to the main school building.

It’s hard for people moving into the area to believe that there isn’t any school space for their children (until more portables are put up). Perhaps realtors point to the school and say how beautiful it is, which is true…but soon, a large proportion of the children will not be learning inside the main building; they’ll be in portables (and the only washrooms are in the main building).

If the rest of the portables are like the one they put up this year, the students will be much better off sitting on the gravel field under umbrellas (there’s not much grass, either, since the school couldn’t afford to put grass in the field).

The old school had a beautiful field, and swings, and play structures. Probably due to budget constraints, the school district sold that school to townhouses and built this one. There’s one small playground, and a large stretch of gravel, infamous for digging it’s rocks into children’s knees and hands.

The washrooms in the main building won’t be enough to handle the pressure from an estimated maximum of over 700 students, either.

When we moved to Canada, we were excited to live in a country that prioritizes education. We’re happy to pay high taxes to contribute to better learning for our children and others, and to support healthcare for residents. But we’ve been astonished as we find that the demands placed on municipalities by lightning-fast development aren’t mitigated at all. City councils don’t seem to be able to take into account the need for services before approving new developments. Police, doctors, schools and transportation are all very inadequate, and it will only get worse.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I will say that my kids love their school; their teachers and the staff have been kind, flexible, and considerate. The people who move here and the people who’ve lived here a long time all are friendly and helpful. We love the friends we’ve made, and seeing our children make good friends and enjoy their childhood is a wonderful thing.


People need forests too