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Surrey faces heat as it rezones land for industrial use

Council defies residents in backing 605-acre expansion as city’s industrial vacancy rate plunges to a record low of 0.2 per cent
Surrey’s Campbell Heights industrial park: political capital spent to expand industrial land base.| Google Earth

On July 26 the City of Surrey moved to rezone 605 acres (245 hectares) of rural and unused farmland to industrial use in a region where all industrial land is becoming scarce and in very high demand.

Surrey city council will now send the proposed amendments for the South Campbell Heights Area Plan to Metro Vancouver for approval before rubber-stamping the new industrial area.

As of the second quarter 2021, the industrial vacancy rate across Metro Vancouver had plunged to a record low 0.7 per cent.

Surrey has the largest inventory of industrial space in the Metro region, with 39.4 million square feet, but only 0.2 per cent of that is now vacant, also an all-time low, according to a report from Colliers.

Concerns are mounting that the region is in danger of running out of industrial land all together.

According to the Metro Vancouver 2020 Regional Industrial Lands Inventory, 82 per cent of the 28,422 acres of industrial land that was available five years ago has now been developed. Since 2016, industrial development has averaged more than three million square feet a year, and that pace accelerated to 4.4 million square feet annually in the past two years.

Right now, there is 5.2 million square feet of new industrial space under construction and a further 18.5 million square feet planned.

“There is a critical shortage of industrial land in Metro Vancouver,” Paul Morassutti, vice chairman at CBRE Canada, said. “It is our estimation that [it] could potentially, literally run out of industrial land by the early 2020s.”

“The land issue since 2010 has been a prevalent problem, but now it is getting to a more critical point,” said Ryan Kerr, a principal with Avison Young. “We are definitely losing new businesses or existing businesses that want to expand in B.C.”

The Surrey rezoning underlined the political capital needed to create more room for warehouse distribution, manufacturing and other industrial uses.

The city’s public consultation on the rezoning found the vast majority of Surrey residents opposed the plan, largely citing environmental concerns.

Surrey Environmental Partners leader Deb Jack said her group wasn’t consulted. She argued for the land to be a park. The Semiahmoo First Nation also claimed it was not consulted on the rezoning plan.

“Semiahmoo has received no information from the city to make any kind of free, prior or informed consent with regard to this bylaw. Without having any of this information we can probably tell you we do not support this,” said councillor Joanne Charles, whose nation rests on the mouth of the river, near White Rock.

Within the Surrey proposal, about one-third of the land will remain dedicated as “conservation and recreation,” while two-thirds will be zoned as “mixed employment,” from its current “rural” designation.

None of the land is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

City staff pointed out that much of the land had been destroyed for farming purposes by past gravel excavation, in suggesting industrial would be the best use for the land.

“The proposed South Campbell Heights Plan will help address the industrial land supply and provide opportunities to accommodate both new industrial businesses and those businesses that are seeking to expand their operations,” the city report said.