Two radically different visions of Langley and urban planning clashed at last Monday’s evening Council meeting as Councillor Eric Woodward proposed his motion entitled “Reduced Commercial Off-Street Parking Requirements for Downtown Aldergrove”.
There are few issues more contentious in urban planning than parking. In a suburb like Langley, creating vibrant, walkable neighbourhoods has the added complication of challenging a mentality use to an auto-oriented bedroom community. So when newcomer Councillor Woodward proposed a motion on Monday to have staff “propose an appropriate process… to consider the reduction of commercial off-street parking and loading requirements within the Aldergrove Core Area Plan area by up to 75%”, longtime Councillor, and Aldergrove resident, Bob Long was quick to defend the abundance of free parking.
The first thing to keep in mind is that Councillor Woodward was not making a motion to actually change the requirements: he is looking for a proposal for the process to consider changing the requirements.
The second thing to consider is that Councillor Woodward is using direct Langley-based examples of revitilization to apply to Aldergrove. He could have used a lot more outside examples. Communities where everyone drives from lot to lot to lot to home are generally not vibrant downtowns with pedestrian activity. The example he used, of course, was his own backyard of Fort Langley, which is the only Township of Langley community with an urban-like parking requirement policy (50% of what is required elsewhere in the Township). While he could have replaced “Fort Langley” with any number of examples, Councillor Woodward assumes:
“Whereas these reduced commercial off-street parking requirements have been one of the most instrumental, structural, positive bylaws responsible for the revitalization and increasing success of Fort Langley’s commercial core area…” – Councillor Eric Woodward
What I personally really appreciated was how he provided examples of how many of the businesses that we love in Fort Langley wouldn’t exist as they are with a “Willowbrook-style” parking requirements. Beatniks Bistro, Trading Post, Lelam’s, and Blacksmith Bakery could never exist in the way they do if they had the Langley standard (which I believe has the highest minimum parking requirements in Metro Vancouver). So if you’re wondering about why Fort Langley feels so different than Willowbrook, this is part of the reason. It isn’t the Fort itself. Even when I’m living in Willoughby, I go to Fort Langley every other weekend – but I haven’t actually been in the historical Fort since Prime Minister Jean Chretien visited us while in office.
The Councillor, however, is assuming that people think Fort Langley is a success. While I’m sure he knew there would pushback from Council, on such a progressive urban planning concept for Aldergrove, I doubt he thought that the rebuttal would be a rejection of his assumption about Fort Langley. Speaking about the reasoning behind the 1995 relaxation of Fort Langley parking requirements, the great defender of Langley’s status quo, Councillor Bob Long states:
“…[the proposal] considered Fort Langley to be a pedestrian oriented town, that it had ample parking on the streets, and they felt that relaxing the parking requirements would help, perhaps, get the town going, but I don’t think there was any proof that it actually did. In fact, what we have now is a concern of parking in Fort Langley, so in fact the opposite of what’s being proposed here is whats happened.
Aldergrove is completely different… there is plenty of parking being underutilized right now in Aldergrove and, of course, Aldergrove is NOT a pedestrian oriented community such as Fort Langley… there is no comparison…but more importantly, the experiment in Fort Langley, I would say, is failed…I can’t support this.” – Councillor Bob Long
Aldergrove is not a pedestrian oriented community? The experiment in Fort Langley has failed? Interesting comments indeed. Furthermore, Councillor Long is concerned that even having this on the table might cause some developers to hold off on Aldergrove projects to see if they can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. He also suggested that while he would like to see Aldergrove become more pedestrian-oriented, we need to have the commercial development first… with lots of parking.
Woodward rebutted that many people see Fort Langley in a different way than Councillor Long does and that the relaxed parking requirement is a core part of the successful pedestrian-oriented focus. I would further that notion: how do we create a pedestrian-oriented neighbourhood by supporting auto-oriented policy? Councillor Long is always quick to preach that Willoughby’s problems are all just “growing pains”, but when those “growing pains” might affect Aldergrove, he seems to sing a different tune.
Councillor Woodward also is hoping that developers interested in building in Aldergrove’s core plan would be incentivized by the pro-urban idea:
“…if there are people in the pipeline that are looking at their sites that there’s a big opportunity to do it better and not just take, like I said during the campaign, not take anything to get something, which I believe some are doing.” – Councillor Eric Woodward
He went on to express his surprise at Councillor Long’s comments:
“I think this is the first time I’ve heard in awhile that the experiment in Fort Langley has failed, you would have to tell all the people that are there crowding all the sidewalks on Saturday and Sunday.” – Councillor Eric Woodward
What I found to probably be the best comments to rebut Councillor Long’s problem with Fort Langley parking:
“There’s an urban myth that theres no parking in Fort Langley. The issue in the Fort Langley area is that you have a parking challenge on a sunny Saturday and a sunny Sunday… and really what people mean when they say there’s no parking, they say ‘I wanted to go to Trading Post and there wasn’t a parking spot for me right out in front of Trading Post when I got there’. Really, you can find a stall and you can walk a certain distance and you can find parking in Fort Langley most of the time and it’s not done at the expense of good urban design.” – Councillor Eric Woodward
Having lived in Glen Valley, worked at the local real estate office, and having my children attend both Fort Langley schools, I agree. Yea, I’ve done the “Fort Langley circle” as I call it as I look for a premium spot, but I have never not found a spot that is more than a 2 minute walk to my destination after maybe a minute or two extra of driving. My over-priviledged SUV-driving suburban mindset might have me muttering under my breath, but the reality is that it was probably still a shorter walk than if I was parking at my local Walmart on a typically busy weekend. But instead of walking past some cool shops on a vibrant sidewalk, I get to dodge cars as I walk the Langley-standard induced bazillion car parking lot.
Councillor Woodward didn’t stop there. Recalling Councillor Long’s opening inaugural comments about being all about proper process, Councillor Woodward concluded:
“Councillor Long would suggest a good process, hear from staff before making a decision, apparently he doesn’t need to hear from staff in this case, he’s already made up his mind that it’s a bad idea, so that I don’t quite understand, and all I want to do is have a good process to look at it, take a good long look at it because its been in the core plan for 8 years and it’s not been looked at and addressed and I would like to address it in conjunction with some of the other ideas I’ve floated such as shared parking facilities which are also in the core plan, so this reduction will help make a more better walkable Aldergrove.” – Councillor Eric Woodward
Councillor Long attempted to be more conciliatory in response, but his suggestion that we should take a look at Aldergrove as a whole (again) instead of dealing with parking seemed to be a purposeful way of trying to delay real work for no reason. What was the purpose of the Aldergrove Core Area plan that was adopted in 2010? The vision is there, but the execution hasn’t been. We finally have someone taking concrete progressive steps to incentivize revitalization in Aldergrove and Councillor Long’s response is to stonewall the process at every turn.
Councillor Long states that he would like an update on Aldergrove – apparently there was a “depressing” report in 2014 due to market conditions. Well, I hate to say this, but the 2019 market may look a lot like that one. Aldergrove can’t keep waiting for insane markets to revitalize. Additionally, the community didn’t even take advantage of the most recent hyped up market. The core plan wasn’t worked on by the private sector in any substantial way. The past two councils have allowed for the focus of Aldergrove development to be outside of the core area plan, not within it.
In his attempt to defer the motion to a workshop (not sure how this is better for his case than just a process motion), Councillor Long also admitted “there is no hurry”, which seems to contradict his worry that developers might hold back if they know something might be coming. Unfortunate for Councillor Long, he didn’t get a seconder to his deferral motion.
Mayor Jack Froese later made a surprise motion to add Fort Langley to the motion based on Councillor Woodward’s assumptions, to potentially bring Fort Langley back to Township/Willowbrook-style standards. Due to his conflict of interest as a major Fort Langley commercial landowner, Councillor Woodward asked to split the motions so he could recuse himself from the the Mayor’s second part of the motion.
Council carried the first part of the motion (the original intent) in a 6-2-1 split, with Councillor Whitmarsh absent, and Councillors Arnason and Long opposed.
Council then referred the second part of the motion in a 4-3-2 vote, which added the words “including the regulatory environment to bring Fort Langley back to Township of Langley parking standard”, to the Council priority workshop on Wednesday. Mayor Froese, Councillors Long and Ferguson were opposed, while Councillors Whitemarsh and Woodward were absent.
Mayor Froese than suggested a referral motion for the first part of the motion to the Council priority workshop as well, and after some egging on, Councillor Davis was convinced to make the motion. It also carried in a 7-1-1vote with Councillor Richter opposed and Councillor Whitmarsh absent.
If you were confused by the end of the night, you were in good company.