While I had plans to write a more in depth article regarding the Brookswood NCP process, Councillor Woodward’s motion to consider developing one Brookswood Neighbourhood Community Plan at a time has pre-empted my writing schedule. (Update: Meeting II in Review: Woodward’s motion to focus on one Brookswood NCP at a time defeated)
The Brookswood OCP was not completed in a vacuum. It is within the greater context of the Township of Langley municipality, which it would appear that previous councils haven’t really considered.
The problem is that growth does not happen simply because you build it, or because you have a lofty percentage target. The reality is not that we grow by the same percentage every year, but rather by a very similar real number year after year. Over the last decade we have grown at a fairly steady real number of around 2,600 people per year. About 1,900 of those people (or 73%) find themselves in the new development area of Willoughby. This is important to remember.
Part of the struggle for Willoughby has been the lack of focused planning or phased development. NCP’s have been randomly made with little rhyme or reason and they have all, now with Williams adopted, been adopted, allowing developers to build density wherever they buy land. Infrastructure in turn ends up patchy and sprawled out. These 1,900 people move to new developments (or displace others to move) in Yorkson, Southwest Gordon, Northeast Gordon, and soon Latimer, Jericho, Central Gordon, Smith, Williams, etc. With a target build out of 90,000, Willoughby may not have anything close to completed infrastructure for another 20-30 years. While population growth numbers may increase over the years due to new births, we still rely a lot more on home buyers from out of town, especially from municipalities to the west.
If we have 2,600 people per year come to Langley, they get to chose where in Langley they move. Simply by building more in a different location will not increase the growth, it merely provides more options. Since the housing types that will be offered will be similar to Willoughby, those people who may have moved to Willoughby may now move to Brookswood. Instead of 73% going to Willoughby, maybe only 50-60% will go to Willoughby.
You might think stunting growth in Willoughby is a blessing, but what does it mean for the road building, sidewalks, and new schools? How would Willoughby residents feel when their infrastructure takes 30-40 years instead of 20-30 years because we had to put those funds towards Brookswood instead? What if it takes 10 years instead of 5 for the next neighbourhood elementary school? Just more growing pains? That, or a lifetime of bad planning
In the past, with no Willoughby representation, Council has literally turned the neighbourhoods of Willoughby against each other, such as allowing for a school meant for Routley (an already established community waiting for an elementary school) to go to Yorkson. There are finite dollars and a finite population. With the adoption of every Willoughby NCP, development in the area spread thinner and thinner. Incomplete roads and sidewalks have become the unfortunate norm. Not for 2-3 years, but for 15-20 years. By opening up Brookswood to similar development, we will end up waiting substantially longer for proper infrastructure in developing neighbourhoods. The “growing pains”, as Councillor Bob Long loves to call Willoughby’s problems, will last literally for generations.
Slowdowns in the market will only exasperate these problems. 2,600 new people in a good year roughly translates to a need for about 900 homes (2.9 people per household is the Langley average). In 2017, there were 1,805 unit permits passed by Council, with 71% of those in Willoughby. While 2018 has seen a significant slowdown in building permits, those 2017 numbers (and 2016 wasn’t too far off) will mean that 2019 and 2020 will see a rapid oversaturation of multifamily homes that the demand cannot handle (townhomes generally take 2 years to buildout, apartments, 3 years). Willoughby is already building enough units in one year for 2 years worth of demand and soon those people can chose to buy the same home in Brookswood.
Brookswood development could likely lead to a further saturated market, possibly even empty homes, rapidly lower values for young homeowners, and increasingly thinning infrastructure. It could also end up tearing apart communities as Brookswood residents fight Willoughby residents for precious provincial school dollars – something we’ve already witnessed within Langley (and within Willoughby itself). It’s bad enough that Willoughby did not end up with phased development to force a concentration of complete infrastructure, but to replicate and increase the problem in South Langley would seem extremely irresponsible and shortsighted.
While the Brookswood OCP has already been adopted, and phased development no longer a real option in Langley, I hope that Council at least finds the wisdom to adopt Councillor Woodward’s motion which will at least mitigate the damage that will be done to both communities.