Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Do we need two Missions?

with 6 comments

The CBC tonight had an investigative report on a development in Mission. Once again it features a well qualified professional civil servant being pushed out of his job because he insisted on doing his job properly.

Genstar  (those lovely people who brought you the hideous Mary Hill development) now want to wreck a unique ecosystem with yet another subdivision.  And as usual our provincial government is on the side of big business and in favour of wrecking what it likes to call “the best place on earth”.

Damien Gillis sent out the following this afternoon

Silverdale – Mission, BC: CBC exposé, plus my short documentary on the controversial plan to build what could be the largest urban sprawl development in Western Canada

Finally, this story is poised to catch fire, after smouldering for several years now beneath the forested canopy of Mission’s rural community of Silverdale.  A new CBC story exposes the battle between local residents driven to protect their quiet farming community and delicate ecosystem – home to important salmon habitat and diverse fish and wildlife – and one of North America’s largest developers, Genstar.  The Mission residents, working under the banner Citizens Against Urban Sprawl, are outraged at a massive development proposal by Genstar (some will recognize the name from Coquitlam’s Mary Hill monstrosity), which has been championed by Mission Council.   Essentially, they plan to clear-cut the top of the mountain to make way for up to 5,000 homes – plus more on a tiny, fragile island in the middle of Silvermere Lake, below – with no regard for what will happen to local drinking water, as longtime residents of the community are all on springs or wells.  It’s not just the environmental and social implications of the project that have raised alarms, but the undemocratic process by which the development is being pushed through.  Esteemed biologist Dr. Marvin Rosenau left the provincial government after being subjected to severe political pressure and interference for writing a report that decried the development for strong environmental reasons.

Watch my short documentary “Mission to Save Silverdale,” produced last year on the situation, featuring interviews with Dr. Rosenau and the local citizens persevering against great odds to protect their community and environment; also featuring aerial footage of the area and some tense scenes from a heated town hall meeting on the controversial project.  Go to and click on the video link to the right. running time: 12 min
To be clear: we do not have an economy that is somehow more important than the environment. The economy is a subsidiary of the environment. We depend for our continued existence and health on a functioning ecosystem. We have become the biggest threat to our own life. In Canada – and BC – we have have reduced environmental protection to a PR stunt. Our processes protect nothing if there is money to made by wrecking it. We have reverted to the philosophy of the first European settlers, who saw the New World as a limitless supply of resources that they could pillage just as comprehensively as they had the Old World.
It does not have to be this way. There are plenty of examples of systems which have managed to both have a high standard of living and a functioning ecosystem. But we continue to behave as though these processes could never be made to work here. Meanwhile the Swedes will be (fossil fuel) oil free in 20 years. The Danes have become world leaders in wind power, and have made Copenhagen a place where citizens want to be out of doors all year round. Norway, also a major oil producer, has manged to reduce its ghg emissions.
The legacy of Campbell and Harper is of a system which is totally unsustainable. That means if we continue this way, we go bust. And sooner rather than later. We need to be able to make decisions about development that are senbsible, and make the future better, and not worse than it is now. A process which assumes that any devevlopment can and should proceed, provided enough promises of mitigation are made is simply not worth having. The damage to our environment is all around us, plain to see anf far too great to be allowed to continue.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 30, 2008 at 7:44 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Unfortunately that area is within the Fraser Valley Regional District’s urban growth boundary which, in many people’s eyes, justifies its development as if it were already done.


    September 30, 2008 at 8:21 pm

  2. Sometimes mitigation consists of not doing the project.

    Having been a victim of Mission council in the early 90s when they changed their minds about Minnie’s pit and went about expanding it up to my property line with no offer to treat my well water, I would caution anyone desperate enough to live in that District that the place is Amateur Hour.

    The Building Inspector asked my why I bothered to get a Building Permit at my final inspection!

    I would have bought an excellent farm acreage closer to town but was told that I would have to pay for a half block of roadway and power lines before I would even be allowed a mobile home on it. Years later I drive by a mobile home and trucker parking on the site and no road connect. That is Mission for you. I propose they rename it Misfit.

    Keep up the good work Stephen!

    Greg A

    September 30, 2008 at 8:31 pm

  3. Sad to say, it is the West Coast Express commuter service that has made the Mission area another bedroom community for Vancouver.

    At a function some years ago (2002) I asked a Mission real estate chap his opinion of the number of people who moved to the Maple Ridge/Mission area because of the WCE. I was astounded when he said over 2,000!

    Malcolm J.

    September 30, 2008 at 9:51 pm

  4. The issue is not development or individual developers, but the form of development.

    The population of existing South False Creek with the added numbers for post-Olympics SE False Creek will be about 25,000 people.

    The planned population of SFU’s UniverCity is 10,000.

    Both of these communities have serious environmental planning behind them (and some pretty decent design), notably the district energy plant for SEFC (uses the ambient heat from sewage), and the protection of streams and the 1,400 acre conservation area below SFU.

    In the latter case, the deal was to trade the protection of the conservation area for the right to develop within the SFU ring road. That deal is a screaming success as far as I am concerned. The heavily forested Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area is larger than the entire SFU campus. The park was given to the city of Burnaby to manage in perpetuity in Mike Harcourt’s last act before he resigned as premier.

    SEFC and SFU are also model compact communities and have a smaller ecological footprint than that represented by the Genstar project, which will serve a similar population. Both support decent public transit ridership, are zoned for mixed uses, and have major bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Both also happen to have a more unique and distinct character than the vast metroplitan marshmallow the majority of our suburbs represent.

    Why the Genstar development replicated the widely discredited auto-centric subdivision model from the 50s is a matter for the uneducated and unaware Mission council to deal with. They could have built a sustainable 21st Century village with a compact ‘Granville Island’ core and made it seriously transit-oriented with adjacent protected forests and riparian zones if so instructed, but they chose septuagenerain Ozzie and Harriet and triple-garage door architecture instead.

    Regarding Mary Hill, the only difference between it and any other large single lot subdivision rife with buildertecture in the Lower Mainland is the fact it’s tilted up on the side of a hill for all to see, and it ain’t pretty.

    And this will not the last development of its kind. Genstar’s appearance wan’t linked to the start of the West Coast Express service, but it does follow the trajectory of the Gateway North Fraser Perimter Road and the Golden Ears bridge projects quite closely.

    I belive a similar pattern will also emerge in the Western Communities of Victoria now that the 22,000 hectare Western Forest Products lands are in the hands of developers — without the input of any city or regional planning body I might add.

    Building sustainable communities must be part of any intiative to combat emissions, and it should be an election issue. I think it’s now at the point where the federal government MUST step in and steer development into more appropriate forms, and if that means dictating conservation planning policy (posibly with big rewards of fed-funded transit and alternative energy infrastuture), or even the outright purchase of land for developers who would play by these new rules, then so be it.

    I’ll be voting accordingly in this election.


    October 1, 2008 at 1:06 pm

  5. […] may well recall that recently an old issue – the Genstar developments proposed in Mission – resurfaced with allegations that a BC Ministry of the Environment (actually known as the Ministry […]

  6. While Mission staff and Council have been busy negotiating monetary and land use agreements for Silverdale, they have completely neglected what is truly needed, an action plan to achieve sustainability for Mission’s present population. Our taxes increase every year, children await the return of their parents from jobs outside this community, and our seniors continue to plead for a much-needed senior’s centre.
    Doubling our population by transforming Silverdale into Superbia will not achieve sustainability. This is SPRAWL, the most expensive form of residential development in terms of economics, the environment, social and personal costs (including health care costs) and natural resource consumption. The loss of an existing healthy, functioning ecosystem will create a deficit in our natural capital, an assured death sentence for wildlife, contamination of streams and groundwater through increased use of chemicals, and more air pollution resulting from a car-reliant population.
    Healthy growth in all aspects cannot succeed unless all the guidelines for sustainability are followed. We need to be more energy self-reliant, to have access to locally grown healthy food, and to promote ethical business practices to secure our economic future. Develop in town where the infrastructure exists. Make downtown Mission more accessible for people who don’t have vehicles or can’t drive.
    Let’s concentrate on the community’s needs for the people who live here now. Let’s improve what we already have and not multiply our deficiencies. We cannot afford to extend ourselves beyond our means.
    It is important for people in our community to express their comments at the October 21st public hearing, beginning at 6:30 pm at Mission’s Best Western Hotel (Lougheed Highway and Hurd Street). Up until now, the only voice which Council has listened to has been the developer and this has created a false impression that the public actually wants and approves of the plan. Hopefully, this time, Mission Council will choose on the side of a sustainable tomorrow.


    October 13, 2008 at 10:47 am

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