Brookswood Planning Debate Gets Heated, Deferred Until January

The second significant item in Council’s Dec. 10th’s afternoon meeting was the recommended endorsement of the Neighbourhood Team Terms of Reference for neighbourhood planning in the Booth, Fernridge and Rinn areas of the Brookswood-Fernridge Community Plan. Since it says the word “Brookswood” in the title, it’ll be controversial and Council certainly didn’t disappoint.

Brookswood plans
Map of the 3 Brookswood Neighbourhood Plans

Bookswood Neighbourhood Planning Team Grows

Township staff recommended a neighbourhood planning team size of 9, but Councillor Blair Whitmarsh was quick to ask for an increase to 12, which would include the original 9 from within the Finn, Booth and Fernridge plans, but also add 2 from the adjacent developed Brookswood area and 1 more from the adjacent rural area.

Councillor Bob Long wondered what we’ve done in the past regarding planning team sizes. Staff responded that the planning team for the Brookswood Community was larger because “the geographic area was the entire area of Brookswood Fernridge”. For the Williams NCP, there was over 20 because it was “encompassing”. Based on this logic, it would seem that staff believes the planning for 3 concurrent neighbourhood plans will be less encompassing than one of of Willoughby’s smallest neighbourhoods. Even the Aldergrove planning team had more than 9 and that was for a smaller core area.

Councillor Kim Richter was happy with the increase, but wanted to see 3 different teams for the 3 distinct plans. Mayor Jack Froese responded that this would create a disconnect between the plans, and suggested to keep the one primary planning committee and then have them create 3 subcommittees. This way, there would be representative input from the 3 areas, but a uniform presentation to Council through the primary committee.

Councillor Woodward was visibly incredulous, first wondering why we now have 4 committees, continuing his opposition to the process, stating that there will be a disconnect due to planning of 3 areas at the same time and having 12 people basically recruiting whoever they want. He continued his opposition to the terms of reference because it allows for people – speculators, if you will – who do not live in Brookswood or even Langley to sit on the primary committee and select other non-residents (again, assuming, potentially other speculators).

While stating that the terms of reference can be made more strict, and that the planning committee only makes recommendations, not decisions, Mayor Jack Froese argued that a person with a connection to the property, as a taxpayer, has a right to providing input in the process. Councillor Whitmarsh also agreed with this sentiment, but did shared Councillor Woodward’s concerns with the original 12 committee members selecting their own people and recommended that Council should setup a criteria through the terms of reference.

While Councillor Richter piped in that the most important thing is the increase of community particpation, but Councillor Bob Long said the amendment of the amendment is confusing and complicating the matter doesn’t make any sense – increasing the number from 9 to 12 is good enough. It is interesting to note that Councillor Richter 2018 election campaign finished 2nd at Brookswood’s George Preston Recreation Centre polling booth compared to Councillor Long’s 11th place. Both are long-time well-known Councillors, so I think it’s worth looking at who is resonating with the current residents.

Councillor Petrina Arnason took the discussion in another direction, seemingly on the same page was Councillor Woodward, expressing discontentment with the entire process. She explicitly stated that its premature to be setting this up and Council needs to allow more time for the community to come to us. Rushing this in this close to Christmas when people are busy isn’t benefiting anyone. Councillor Arnason pushed for having a Council Priority Planning meeting with a staff presentation so Council and the public can be better informed.

Council Decision:

The amendment to the amendment to have 3 subcommittees carried in a 6-3 vote with Councillors Long, Woodward and Davis opposed. The original amendment to increase the main committee from 9 members to 12 carried unanimously.

Brookswood Neighbourhood Plan Terms of Reference Decision Deferred to January

Back to the original motion!

Councillor Richter opened the dialogue in agreement with Councillor Arnason’s assertion that there has been extensive concern from the community and the motion should be deferred to a Council Priority meeting held in the evening so that the public can attend. Councillor Arnason restated her support of this, recommending for council to be more reflective when it comes to Brookswood – there needs to be better opportunities for people to have more access to input early on in the process.

Not surprisingly, ever anxious to get the plan moving, Mayor Froese disagreed with Councillor Richter’s deferral motion, arguing that this report is thorough enough and we need to get the consultation process started:

“…to go to public to get input on how we’re going to get public input maybe just one step we don’t need to do.” – Mayor Jack Froese

Similar to my earlier comment comparing Councillors Long and Richter’s vote counts in Brookswood, note that Brookswood was the only community that the Mayor lost to challenger Anna Remenik (in fact, even Councillors Davis & Richter received more votes than Mayor Froese at the George Preston Rec Centre).

Councillors Bob Long & Blair Whitmarsh (who was 10th at the Brookswood poll) expressed displeasure in the deferral, with the latter suggesting there has been plenty of reflection, we have a formal public engagement strategy and to say we are rushing things is wrong.

Councillor Woodward concurred, noting that they had been discussing this for 40 minutes already and he hadn’t even gotten an opportunity to have his 5 questions answered to obviously more time is needed. Beating a dead horse, he used the opportunity to again jab at the fact that the concurrent planning schedule is going to keep creating problems and hopefully giving more time and information to Council will create a better consensus in Brookswood than the typical 5-4 votes.

After initially saying “we need to move forward”, Councillor David Davis retracted his words (perhaps clarifying his intent), and offered a compromise of deferring to a January council meeting, which gives the public the opportunity to see whats going on, but also forces Council to make a decision instead of just receiving information: a delay but with a plan of moving forward.

Out of left field, Councillors Long and Whitmarsh said they don’t want to push this back 3 months. Councillor Richter liked Councillor Davis’ plan and reminded them that everyone was on page with January – within the next 40 days. Mayor Froese continued to argue that Council has a lot of hard work coming up and the public will have 18-24 months for input and this delay is unnecessary.

It was Councillor Steve Ferguson, however, who closed the discussion with the truest summary of the topic:

“[Staff] did an exceptional job, they took their time… a little, a tiny bit extra time for us to sit down and roll up our sleeves and review whats been presented, I don’t think that’s going to be any detriment to what we want from Brookswood Fernridge, we want the very best and taking a little extra time certainly won’t hurt…” – Councillor Steve Ferguson

Council Decision:

  • DEFERRAL carries 7-2 with Mayor Froese, Councillor Long opposed

Brad’s Thoughts:

Regarding the planning team, I agree that every taxpayer has a right for input, perhaps at various stages of the process. However, I do worry about the potential of having a group of non-residents sitting on a planning committee where their interests are short term financial and speculative instead of planning and lifestyle based. While the planning committee may not be making policy decisions, a team with a strong speculative presence will provide much different recommendations to Council than a group with interests in long term future of the community.

I share Councillor Woodward’s frustrations with the concurrent planning. There is no reason for it beyond just trying to get shovels in the ground as fast as possible. The Willoughby OCP was adopted in 1998 and there have been 11 plans worked on and adopted with their own planning teams over the past 20 years. Compared to Willoughby, the entire Brookswood process is looking shortchanged: rushed to satisfy landowners. The optics are blatantly in favour of speculators, not a long term vision for the community.

When most of the members of Council with the lowest support in Brookswood are advocating for speculative involvement, concurrent consultations and rushed engagement, and those with the highest support in the neighbourhood suggesting the opposite, I think that the public should be paying attention. Who do you think is truly representing the people of Brookswood and looking for a better planning process?

Election 2018 Results, George Preston Recreation Centre Polls:

  1. David Davis (1133)
  2. Anna Remenik (1132)*
  3. Kim Richter (1091)
  4. Jack Froese (1056)*
  5. Eric Woodward (1000)
  6. Petrina Arnason (999)
  7. Michael V. Pratt (894)
  8. Michelle Connerty (890)
  9. Margaret Kunst (821)
  10. Steve Ferguson (796)
  11. Harold Whittell (789)
  12. Blair Whitmarsh (762)
  13. Bob Long (716)

*Denotes Mayoral candidate. Bold denotes elected official.

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