Grandpa's Bridgeview home caught in Gateway crunch
Fifty years of living and working on property amounts to pittance
Joey Thompson, The Province
Published: Monday, March 12, 2007
The government legalese that sets policy for the seizure of grandpa
Jake Thiessen's 1940s north Surrey bungalow and three adjoining lots is
"The owner should be in the same economic position as before the expropriation," the document reads.
But 68-year-old Thiessen -- who must relinquish his home, family business and industrial-zoned properties to the authorities to clear the way for the $3-billion Gateway Project -- says there's no way.
No question, the homes and properties in the Bridgeview area south of the Fraser River are key to the B.C. government's ambitious plan to twin the Port Mann Bridge and build perimeter roads on the river's silty flood plain.
Thiessen, his wife, kids and grandkids who piled into the compact, old-fashioned kitchen armed with stacks of documents and reports understand and agree the project is essential.
But they want the expropriation squad to know it isn't easy to walk away from the land, an on-site roofing operation and the 11/2-storey wood-frame house that have been in the family since 1956.
Especially with only $280,000 in their wallets to replace and relocate.
Sure, the offer is market value, according to a thorough appraisal prepared for the Gateway program people and confirmed by other estimators.
But given soaring land prices, the sum is a far cry from what the family will have to shell out to set up shop anywhere else in the Lower Mainland.
"If he had his way he would never move because living in this house enables him and his business to be somewhat financially secure in his last years," daughter Marcy Risberg said.
"Shouldn't they have to pay him the amount it will cost to relocate?"
Not according to B.C.'s own Expropriation Act, which allows the powers-that-be to seize property for a purpose deemed to be in the public interest, even if the owner isn't willing to sell.
The government's obligation is to compensate equal to the property's market value, Peter McLeod, one of Gateway's property agents, reiterated several times in an interview last week.
And there's the hitch.
The market value for the roughly 600 homeowners in the community is puny by today's standards, thanks to an obstructive zoning bylaw drawn up by then-Surrey council to attract clean industries in the 1970s. A subsequent council reviewed the bylaw in 1986 but left it unaltered.
It confines permitted uses in the area -- with the exception of existing residences, which were grandfathered --to special industries, namely scientific research labs and the manufacture of business machines, electrical appliances, tools and equipment and scientific, photographic and optical instruments.
Needless to say, the hoped-for flood of entrepreneurs interested in investing in the area never showed. In fact, there has been little developer action in the neighbourhood until government agents came knocking recently "to lowball him," Thiessen said.
Now there's little the family can do but pack their bags: the law says they can request a public inquiry, but it also says the government can refuse them.
"From the zoning to the expropriation, everything is stacked in their favour," the long-time mover and shaker behind Jake's Roofing sighed.