10 Questions with Eric Woodward

Talking Willoughby, Brookswood, roads & marijuana with candidate Eric Woodward…

The other week I sent a questionnaire to almost (I couldn’t find an email for a few) every candidate running for Council (not Mayor). The questions were intended to be nonpartisan, important, and focused on the future of Langley. I deeply appreciate the responses received as it would have taken these candidates serious time to respond. I hope that if you like the responses provided that you’ll share the posts of your favourite candidates. These posts are NOT endorsements of any candidate and the answers have NOT been edited. -Brad Richert

-1-

BRAD: Do you have a tangible solution for solving the highly perceived traffic woes in Willoughby, especially along 208th Street, 80th Avenue and 72nd Avenue.

ERIC: As you noted in the question, we have more than one “208th Street” in our community, and the problem is only getting worse. It has become a symbol for how not to build out a new area. Kids can’t even walk to school safely. If a municipality can’t even get roads right, we have to fix it.

We need to act, and lead, and put in place a new model for building these major roads where all developers share the burden of them, not just the unlucky few. We are already doing this with greenways, why not roads?
We build out the sections we need now, and plan properly for the future so we aren’t dealing with traffic congestion like we are now for another decade or two. Developers pay for it, with interest, not a penny paid for by the taxpayers to get it done now. As some incumbents have suggested we do, using Development Cost Charges (DCCs) revenue is not acceptable to me, as that is taxpayer money for additional things we need, not basics, like roads. Using DCCs for roads would not be development paying for development, which it must do.
This Council also requested two staff reports this term outlining that we, the taxpayers, may need to pay for roads, something development needs to pay for! This has made the problem worse, as we will now have holdouts waiting for the taxpayer to pay them for their road frontage to solve a political problem. This is unacceptable.
We need to simply solve the cause of the problem, not focus on just 208th Street, but fix a broken model that is not working. Let’s not take a piecemeal approach after the fact, with one road at a time. Let’s actually plan for this, and learn from our mistakes. And if we don’t, the problem will repeat itself in Brookswood/Fernridge as well.

-2-

BRAD: Do you believe that road design in Willoughby’s NCPs are adequate for a build out population of 80,000-100,000? If not, do you believe they can be improved, if so, how?

ERIC: Well, the road network certainly won’t be if Council keeps making poor planning and development decisions, like removing mixed-use residential from our commercial town centres — like this Council did this term — or planning for single story strip malls next to farmland, like we are at 216th Street and 80th Avenue.

We need to change our approach in Willoughby with updated urban planning, and not just pay lip service to walkable communities, but actually understand what that means, and build it. We need to build communities that people will actually care about, and walk within, and we aren’t doing that in Willoughby. We have to change that.
To me, you don’t want to over-design for roads, but try hard to get it just right, not too small, not too big. Otherwise we end up with lifeless freeways through the middle of residential neighbourhoods, like we have on 80th Avenue between 212th Street and 208th Street. We need better road designs with proper boulevards, parking, and real character, not obsolete designs from the 1980s. We need to do better, but then also plan for transit right-of-ways when it starts to finally arrive.

-3-

BRAD: Please provide up to 3 items that you believe can be improved in Brookswood’s NCPs that were missed in Willoughby’s planning. Will you advocate for these improvements before adopting further NCPs?

ERIC: We need to put in place a real plan to save groves of mature trees, and the 20% density bonus model adopted by this Council is not going to get it done. Most developers think they can get a 20% density from this Council for free, anyway, because they probably can.

We need to make the following changes in the Brookswood/Fernridge NCP process, a big issue for the coming Council term:
1) fix the model for major roads, such that all developers bear the burden, not just the unlucky few, or the same crisis we now have in Willoughby will repeat itself in Fernridge;
2) designate the best areas of mature trees as small neighbourhood parks and have all developers contribute to saving those economically as we do with greenways in Willoughby, removing the incentive or need to clear cut; and
3) make it absolutely 100% clear that the commercial centres must be walkable, mixed-use, with cars underground, no exceptions. Right now, I fear, as many others do, that the developers will just apply for another strip mall without residential above, and Council will agree to it, just as they did in Willoughby Town Centre this past term. We must stick with basic, principled planning regardless of developer pressures.

-4-

BRAD: A recent application for at Shepherd of the Valley in Willoughby was passed unanimously (absent Councillor Richter), changing the NCP zoning of Institutional/church to a high density comprehensive development zoning. Do you view NCPs in Willoughby (and soon Brookswood) to be very flexible “living documents” or do you maintain holding to a more strict interpretation of an NCP?

ERIC: There is middle ground here, but it only works if Council is charge, not developers. The Willoughby Official Community Pan is now 20 years old, so some flexibility is needed as we recognize mistakes, and want to do things better. But I don’t agree with a rezoning like this without concessions elsewhere. We should not be adding high density not previously anticipated without an understanding that we need to get something in return for this, be it lower density somewhere else, or some other trade-off, like additional green space, or a portion of the significant land lifts to build amenities, like a seniors centre.

Too often, developers seem to be charge, with Council following. We need to change that. And with my understanding of development, we can do that. We need to lead, and not allow developers to just build whatever they want.

-5-

BRAD: The Williams plan is moving forward with a traditional suburban style commercial core at the new 216th Street interchange. Do you believe for this plan adequately “future-proofs” the Northeast quadrant of Willoughby?

ERIC: I believe the Williams Neighbourhood Plan is one of the worst neighbourhood plans we have ever produced. It is simply absurd to be building a new commercial area with surface parking lots next to farmland, designed for the freeway. We need to be locating that on the other side of the plan so residents of Yorkson can walk to it!

We need to stop building for cars, and instead design for people. These mistakes will live on for decades, and we simply have to start caring about what we are doing, not just going along to get along because it is easier. Council needs to lead, and only approve real neighbourhoods based on (at least) the most basic of urban planning principles: mixed-use, in the middle, surrounded by residents! We need to build neighbourhoods people will actually care about, not strip malls next to farmland.

-6-

BRAD: Brookswood is moving forward with simultaneous NCPs. Do you support this? Explain. Should one NCP be done at a time. If so, which area is priority?

ERIC: I do not support simultaneous planning on multiple neighbourhoods, with the possible exception of perhaps doing Booth and Finn together, first, since they are both adjacent to the developed areas. But none should be “accelerated” with special taxpayer funding as this Council approved this term. This was not done in Willoughby, and there is no need to do it in Brookswood/Fernridge. Good neighbourhood planning takes time, and we have many issues to get right in Brookswood.

-7-

BRAD: Phased development has been discussed for Brookswood, but no mechanism is yet in place. Do you support phased development such as in South Surrey’s Grandview neighbourhood? Explain.

ERIC: Well, it is too late now to do that in Willoughby, since all neighbourhood plans are done, with the potential to still fix Williams, hopefully.

It is logical to move south from the developed areas, but if we solve the major roads issue with proper planning for future, which we did not do in Willoughby, and don’t repeat that crisis in the Fernridge area, the need for phasing is less pronounced, as I see it. We should hold off on Fernridge Neighbourhood Plan until we get it right in the first two, Booth and Finn.

-8-

BRAD: Parking is a common issue in many neighbourhoods in Langley, yet enjoys some of the most relaxed parking allowances in the region. Should new developments have more parking or less? Are there other parking-related solutions in your platform?

ERIC: We need to require more visitor parking, and allow for on-street parking. There is no reason to have these wide areas for major roads, and not have on-street parking for residents to use, which also slows cars down, adds pedestrian activity, and neighbourhood character, with better street design, not “freeways”.

Right now, we are not building the right kind of parking for townhouse complexes, and that needs to be reviewed and improved, based on the above.
We are also overbuilding commercial parking in some areas, which is an old model, based on parking lots and strip malls. We need to plan properly for additional suites and require some additional parking for those, recognizing that they will happen, regardless. Those additional units place real pressure on the parking supply. I see no point to pretend we can restrict and enforce the use of garages, for example. Let’s deal with it for real.

-9-

BRAD: Higher density in Langley is suggested as a means to increase housing affordability, pay for amenities/infrastructure and protect ALR land. Agree or disagree? Explain.

ERIC: Affordability is somewhat a supply problem, for sure, and Langley must first do its part within a regional effort, first by not removing density exactly where it should go, such as above Willoughby Centre commercial, which this Council allowed the developer to do. That could have been units right where they should go next to services, for seniors and young people, two groups especially hit hard by the affordability crisis. We have to get these basics right, at least.

We need to place our of new residents and develop urban land. But to me, we protect the ALR 100%, no exceptions, regardless of density or affordability issues. The ALR needs to be off limits to ensure we maintain our rural character, food production capacity for the future, and to not sprawl out everywhere, which is unsustainable. And we must not allow any more urban-style subdivisions within the ALR, period.
We need to have development in our urban areas, like Willoughby, pay for development, infrastructure, and amenities, regardless of increasing densities. We planned for tens of thousands of people 20 years ago, and that should be enough to get it done, properly. If we need different forms of density, we need to get better neighbourhood design in return, and this is something we can do. And if we allow for the “up zoning” densification of sites, for whatever reason or rationale, we must share in that extreme profit creation, for the benefit of everyone, not just developers. We are not doing that, and that needs to change, ASAP. The status quo mentality is not getting it done in this regard.

-10-

BRAD: Some communities are banning the smoking of legal marijuana in all public places. Some are restricting the use of the substance in a fashion similar to tobacco cigarettes. What are your views on a potential municipal bylaw?

ERIC: When I am eating dinner on a nice patio, or enjoying a beer at a local microbrewery, I don’t want to breathe marijuana smoke, any more than I do cigarette smoke. It is also a workers’ safety issue, just as it was with cigarette smoke. I see no issue where, whatsoever, to treat it exactly the same, as a legal product, yet one that affects those nearby when it is consumed. We can make it work, just as we have with cigarettes.

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