March 11 Council Roundup – Budget, Tandem Parking, Aldergrove Town Centre & more

Arnason’s Watershed Study Shot Down

Following the in camera portion of the afternoon meeting, Council spent a fair bit of time discussing Councillor Petrina Arnason’s motion for a watershed study on West Creek around the Gloucester Industrial Estate. The motion was ultimately voted down in a 4-5 vote with Mayor Froese and Councillors Ferguson, Whitmarsh, Kunst, and Long in opposition. There was a lot of talk about “concern for the environment” from the Mayor, but it would appear that the cost of the study was just too high for it to be that much of a concern and he feels that the Township already has policies that will protect environmental damage from further development in the area.

3.85% “Woodward-Amended” Budget Approved Unanimously

The main feature of the Township of Langley afternoon meeting of March 11, 2019 was the unanimous passing of the budget, which Councillor Eric Woodward was able to successfully negotiate a round of amendments to lower the tax increases from over 5% to 3.85%. Included in the budget will be an extensive renovation of McLeod Athletic Park, more RCMP officers and more planning staff. This could actually be a historic budget considering I don’t recall the last time Councillor Richter voted FOR a budget, making it probably the only unanimous budget approval in recent history (fact checkers needed please!). Councillor Richter did vote against the 10.79% 2019 Sanitary Sewer Utility User Pay levy and the 2019 Solid Waste increases passed down from Metro.

Not included in the budget, as per a reminder from Councillor Bob Long, was an annual bridge infrastructure remediation, repairs and improvements to the operations center, additional parking for parks, slope stability investigation on 56th Avenue, and failing pavement on 92nd Avenue truck route. Councillor Long suggests that the 3.85% is a “political number” and appeared to be pushing for increase to the tax rate to deal with at least some of these missing items. He didn’t go so far as to make a motion to add in the missing items and I personally hadn’t heard him speak to these items in previous budget discussions (although I certainly wasn’t around for all of them).

In agreement with Councillor Long, Karen Sinclair did state there were approximately 30 items (15 in roads, similar in facilities) of high priority that were left out of the budget. But she also explained that the additional 1.22% (approx $1.5 million) added on by the NDP’s new employer health tax is what “cannon-balled” the budget process this year, which took a significant amount of what would normally have gone toward capital projects.

Councillor Woodward did get a shot in to Councillor Long’s claim that the latter may vote against the budget for not being high enough by pointing out that it was perhaps the Townships previous 2.5% budget in an election year that left projects off the table was the true “political number”. Councillor Richter also pointed out that it was staff decisions to not place certain items on the capital projects list and that it wasn’t Council that eliminated those specific projects.

Read more in the BC Local News.

Evening Meeting Celebrates Bears Football, Listens to School-Related & Mixed-Used Delegations

Following an achievement award ceremony for the North Langley Bantam Bears, perennial delegate Jessica Yaniv presented a lecture to council on gender segregation at Langley schools and Jennifer Reddington provided an elegantly articulated delegation in regards to the lack of basic sidewalk & safety infrastructure surrounding the new RE Mountain Secondary & Peter Ewert Middle Schools. The Mayor invited her to a further sit down with Paul Cordeiro (Manager, Transportation Engineering) to see what can be done before the September school year and where priorities should be focused.

As issues like 208th Street, 80th Avenue, and now 202nd Street, 72nd Avenue, and more keep coming up, one can’t help but wonder why, other than for purely special interest reasons, Council can’t support properly phased development which would allow us to prioritize infrastructure where people actually live. But I digress.

Colin Hogan from Focus Architecture was also squeezed into the delegations for the evening to address a land use exclusion for mixed use at 20115 80th Avenue in the Latimer NCP (directly across from the Langley Events Centre). I’ll write more about this below as it was later addressed by Councillor Woodward.

List of Applications Voted On:

40% Tandem Parking Restriction Adopted

After an ongoing vote and much haggling over percentage, Council agreed to a “compromise” of 40% maximum restriction on tandem parking in all new developments. The original recommendation from staff was 50%, but Councillor Woodward fought for 25% on February 25, was defeated on a tie vote, but managed to have the main motion deferred to March 11 due to Councillor Whitmarsh’s absence (albeit seemingly knowing the likelihood this wouldn’t help).

Woodward again tried for a 24.5% limit, which was voted down 4-5 with himself, Arnason, Davis and Richter in support. 33% also failed with the same split. In the end, 40% was agreed to in a 5-4 vote with Councillors Woodward, Arnason, Long and Davis opposed – albeit for different reasons. Councillor Woodward expressed that 40-50% is meaningless because developers are rarely building anything with that many tandem spaces and Councillor Long was the most vocal in support of no restriction on tandem.

Unfortunately, housing affordability numbers and statistics were not provided to Council, nor was UBC’s “Form Follows Parking” report to the City of Vancouver that argues in favour of tandem parking. Since the public hearing, I spoke with several developers and head sales staff at major new marketing firms and all indicated that the premium for side by side garages over tandem is around $30,000 to $40,000 in today’s market. Since this currently likely shows as more profit for the developer, the more affordable tandem parking units are being shirked. While it is obvious that tandem parking garages are not the preference for most homeowners, forcing developers to build premium units due to a “preference” will not help housing affordability in Langley moving forward.

While Langley is fortunate enough to have a better “middle ground” between apartment condos and single family homes than other communities on the Greater Vancouver area, this is partially due to the flexibility in a weaker market for developers to build “entry level” townhomes with tandem parking in Willoughby between 2003-2010. It is interesting that the areas with the most tandem parking (South Gordon Estates, etc.) have the least problematic street parking issues, compared to the Yorkson area where there are more side by side garages and more single family homes with suites (and 100% side by side garages). I continue to hold to my opinion that the restriction, even at 40%, is based on very little facts and very poor anecdotal evidence.

Where Should Latimer’s Mixed-Use Go?

Earlier in the year, Councillor Woodward questioned why the developer at 20115 80th Avenue was granted an exclusion to the mixed use zoning when this is something that we are striving for more of, especially in crucial nodes such as 80th and 200th. While Mr. Hogan from Focus Architecture attempted to explain that their site plan works best, it did seem a bit that what mixed use there is was thrown in for what worked for the proponent, not the community.

Before speaking with Councillor Woodward, Hogan offered a “meet in the middle” approach, which also did not really make too much sense. What is really being proposed, in my opinion, is how to satisfy the bare minimum of the plan while recognizing that Councillor Woodward is not going to let go of his personal favouritism towards mixed used development (as evidenced in his own Coulter Berry building). Woodward pointed out that the adjacent application is likely to have an apartment building with ground level retail, as per the plan, which will not have mixed-use on the other side of the street, making the other live-work idea less viable. Townhouses would also eliminate a more walkable “high street” style corridor.

Councillor Ferguson brought up an interesting question about whether or not mixed use is something developers prefer to avoid. Hogan certainly agreed with this assessment that there is concern with “over building” commercial units. It is my opinion that with the exception of Fort Langley, there is very little in regards to modern, exciting commercial space in the Township of Langley. Willoughby Town Centre was one opportunity for great mixed use, and it has seen mixed success despite a poorly reviewed anchor store and a reduction in residential units.

There is also the reality that commercial real estate is also being managed and advertised by Vancouver-based firms that don’t really sell the product. This is unfortunate because we have some great local commercial agents that I wish would be more involved with our local product, as limited as it is. If developers could get on board with building quality commercial, not single storey outlets and malls like what is currently going on at the 216th interchange or 21750 Fraser Hwy, then leasing won’t be a problem. With multiple schools, the LEC and other exciting residential coming to the Latimer/Jericho neighbourhoods, we should be making every effort to push for unique and engagement commercial space.

Aldergrove Town Centre to Receive Red Carpet Treatment

The highly anticipated Aldergrove Town Centre project was shown off to the public on Tuesday, March 12 but this didn’t stop Councillors Woodward and Long to jointly ask Council to place the development on a “priority status”, meaning that inquiries and applications from the developer would be dealt with and not just placed in queue with others… that came before it. Councillor Richter asked why this should receive such preferential treatment. The priority status was approved with an 8-1 vote (Richter opposed).

Township to Address School Projections

Before I even saw Councillor Petrina Arnason’s motion, someone asked me if I had anything to do with it. I’ve been begging the School District to provide justification for its lowball school enrollment projections on development applications for years, as have others, such as Michelle Connerty. It looks like someone is finally taking it seriously. Councillor Richter echoed my primary concern: has anyone ever looked into whether the number of children that the school district say will be in each development is close to what it actually is? It’s not as though the school district couldn’t match up the addresses. (Ie. are there really only 70 school aged children (K-12) in the 188 townhomes in MOSAIC’s “York” development at 84th and 208th?).

Councillor Arnason’s motion was to collaborate with the School Board in reviewing how the process currently works, how it can be approved and consider the best practice moving forward. If there is a task force for this one, sign me up!

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