The Campbell Heights area of Surrey is now one of the region’s largest industrial parks.
It wasn’t always that way. Twenty-five years ago, it was mainly agricultural, with significant forested areas and a number of former gravel pits.
Surrey owned a fair amount of this land, as did the province, which operated a large tree nursery on a massive piece of property west of 192 Street and north of 32 Avenue.
The long-term plan for the area had designated the land for industrial use, but distance from city services had held up development plans. However, that was about to change dramatically.
Doug McCallum was elected mayor in 1996 and had support of a majority of council, who were part of his Surrey Electors Team (SET) slate. One of the SET majority’s early moves was to take a serious look at developing Campbell Heights. Council agreed to extend a sewer line down 192 Street to service the area.
It was controversial. Some argued there was no need for a huge industrial development area yet, while others decried the environmental impact.
Of that there was no doubt – many thousands of trees were cut down and some formerly-forested areas resembled moonscapes. The watercourse pattern also changed, with the most notable aspect being a significant reduction in the depth of Latimer Lake, a former gravel pit that was and remains a city park.
Another criticism was that the city was prepared to sell the land off too cheaply, given the high cost of servicing it.
Despite the heated controversies, the die was cast and development began almost as soon as the services were in the ground. This has continued unabated right to the present. One of the largest developments underway right now is a massive distribution centre for Walmart at 194 Street and 28 Avenue.
A number of changes in the past decade or so show the value of having this industrial land available.
One is that many cities closer to Vancouver, such as Burnaby, have been converting industrial land to residential uses. The pace at which this has happened has led to some to call for an industrial land reserve, similar to the Agricultural Land Reserve. Vancouver itself has converted many formerly industrial areas to other uses. One of the recent shifts will see a large area adjacent to rail yards become the site for the new St. Paul’s Hospital.
Another more recent trend is a heightened demand for warehouse space, for logistics use.
This is a significant change from the former dominant use of industrial areas for manufacturing, with some space for distribution.
The shift to sourcing goods from overseas, plus a change in consumer patterns, has driven the need for massive logistics centres. Amazon of course is the most obvious example of this shift, but many other companies are part of this trend. Amazon does have space in Campbell Heights, along with other warehouses in the Lower Mainland in New Westminster, Tsawwassen and Langley.
One of the most unique projects underway there right now has been called part of China’s “belt and road” initiative.
The World Commodity Trade Centre is a four-warehouse, two-exhibition hall project being built at 32 Avenue and 192 Street, partially on land which was formerly a turkey farm. One of the developers is the Shing Kee Godown Group of Hong Kong, which has been in the logistics business since the 1980s. When complete the front of the property will be lined with Canadian and Chinese flags.
It’s all quite a change for a formerly remote corner of Surrey.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News, and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca