January 13 Township of Langley Council Report: Big Loans & Rebirth of Woodward’s WARCAP?

Following the extremely unfortunate and sad news of the passing of Debbie Froese, wife and partner to Mayor Jack Froese, council continued its business with acting Mayor Margaret Kunst sitting as chair of the regular afternoon and evening meetings on  January 13th and 27th, in addition to the special budget meetings.

Ferguson’s Road Development Motion Fails

The January 13th afternoon session ended on a heated discussion after Councillor Steve Ferguson presented a notice of motion entitled “Road Network Development”. Councillor Kim Richter asked what the difference was between this motion and the recently rejected Willoughby Arterial Road Contribution Amenity Program (WARCAP) that was primarily designed by Councillor Woodward was. Councillor Ferguson responded that while WARCAP was a specific action, this motion is merely a referral to the budget process with specific reference to 95 pages of documentation on existing policy.

Councillor Woodward visibly showed his frustration with his perceived lack of willingness to make substantial moves forward, meanwhile Councillor David Davis expressed his own view that Woodward was grandstanding (my word, not his) and not speaking to the motion at hand. However, beyond the heated exchanges to kick off the new year, the point was made that Ferguson’s motion seemed to really not do anything much different than what was already planned in the 2020 budget process and failed with a 1-7-1 vote with Mayor Froese understandably absent and Ferguson being the sole Councillor in favour of the motion.

Milner Heights Tree Removal Concerns Brought Forward

Fallen Trees in Protected Area

I usually don’t comment on too many delegations until I see action by council, but this one was fairly significant in light of both the Township’s new tree bylaw as well as declared climate emergency. A resident of the Milner Heights area, Greg Sadowski, appeared before council to explain an ongoing matter of a breakdown of communication between himself, Township staff and representatives of Vesta Properties as he has witnessed old age red cedar trees being allegedly irresponsibility felled in a environmentally sensitive area. The photos and video were quite alarming for anyone concerned with Langley’s urban forests. I believe Mr. Sadowski was seeking a meeting to understand what has exactly happened and why. I’m not sure if Mr. Sadowski will achieve the meeting he desires, but I hope he continues to keep Council and the public appraised of the situation.

New Application: 22356 48th Avenue Townhomes

New Development Post Coming Soon

Council Plans to Borrow Big

Council passed final adoption of 3 bylaws on January 13th that would approve 3 loans – one of $1.919 million for the McLeod Athletic Park, another of $16.398 million for land acquisitions and a third significant one of $67.67 million for “Strategic Land Acquisition”. All votes passed on 6-2-1 votes with Councillors Kim Richter and Petrina Arnason opposed.

Most of the discussion on the night centred on the third bylaw. Councillor Richter stated she was “strongly opposed” to taking on $86 million of new debt in this years budget. Councillor Woodward immediately countered, expressing that it is a “fabulous” (I think he said fabulous) borrowing bylaw for land the Township will use and said he could only imagine how much the taxpayers would have saved if this was done sooner when the land was 1/2 or 1/3 of the current cost. Councillor Arnason supported Richter’s disapproval, commenting on a lack of a debt management plan and not knowing how much this would increase property taxes. Councillor Ferguson was supportive of the loans, noting that it is important for the future and the “checks and balances” for spending comes at the budget time.

“It is a challenge, but I certainly think its the right direction for the future.”

-Councillor Steve Ferguson

Councillor Blair Whitmarsh echoed the sentiments provided by Woodward and Ferguson, again expressing that we need to look to the future beyond just 1-2 years and that this is a sound financial plan for a 20 year vision. Councillor Bob Long expressed his hope that these acquisitions would turn into “real bonuses for the entire community really soon”. Councillor Davis referenced Woodward’s point about not waiting any longer and certainly not wanting to purchase these properties at likely much higher prices in 10 years. Additionally, Davis pointed out that some of this land may not be available for the uses that they want where they want them.

“It’s not Township’s job to buy land for the School Board. Never has been. Never should be.”

-Councillor Kim Richter

New Homes on 72nd are a Go

One of the first applications that the current term saw back in November 2018 received final adoption on a 5-3-1 vote (Councillors David Davis, Petrina Arnason and Kim Richter opposed). It’s a relatively straight-forward 11 home lot rezoning and development permit at 21020 72nd Avenue, but back in 2018, Arnason and Richter voiced reservations about the frontages and if there should only be 10 lots. Councillor Davis apparently found some agreement with Arnason and Richter between then and now, but did not provide reasoning for his opposition to the application.

I personally felt that the applicant had done a fair bit of work to make a positive transition between the Northeast Gordon density corridor along 208th Street and the ALR land to the east without encouraging more large “estate homes” that are found to the west, while still making the development economically feasible.

The WARCAP Zombie

Photo 2019-04-19, 11 48 37 AM

At the end of the January 13th evening meeting, Councillor Eric Woodward brought forward a motion “that staff would present the recently defeated Willoughby Arterial Road Contribution Amenity Policy to council as part of the 2020 budget process for its further consideration”.

In it’s defence, Woodward, pointed out that discussions about 208th Street particularly go back beyond the previous Council term and multiple studies have been done regarding its economics. He pointed out that the 2015 study showed that the cost of 208th Street build out would be $30 million for construction and $16 million for land. Then, despite the amount of construction done along 208th Street in between these years, in 2018, the cost is now $37 million for construction and $46 million for land.

“Inaction and doing nothing has increased the cost of the problem by $30 million… so I will continue to not lose enthusiasm for trying to get my council colleagues to solve this problem”

-Councillor Eric Woodward

Councillor Petrina Arnason, who had voted to defeat the WARCAP in December, appreciated Woodward’s fortitude and offered her own perspective on the 208th Street issue: that it’s not just 208th Street, but the whole network of streets that presents a funding challenge. Upon reflection, it would seem that Councillor Arnason understands that WARCAP is a valid mechanism to deal with the current Willoughby issue as well as what the Township will face in Brookswood.

“I may be late to the game in terms of how long its taken me to process this and consider what opportunities might be complementary to the WARCAP”.

-Councillor Petrina Arnason

Arnason pointed out that there are other alternatives to the WARCAP model that she has been researching, but feels that continuing the discussion is worthy and seems to hope that the outcome involves some version of what Woodward has proposed.

“Just because it’s the only proposal doesn’t mean it’s the right one… in Langley we have traffic problems… on the December 2nd meeting, there was a lot of items that got me confused and when I get confused I generally… retract and say ‘hey, don’t support something, I can’t support it if I’m confused.”

-Councillor David Davis

Councillor David Davis expressed his “two bits” that he didn’t like the borrowing money component of the proposal, but he liked the idea of sending the policy to staff and have it presented to him so he can understand it better.

Councillor Blair Whitmarsh mentioned that the biggest stumbling block for him was and still is the borrowing of $35 million for the acquisition of land for roads that will be “paid for by developers anyways” if we wait. His feels that Council received a very comprehensive report on December 2nd, all council members had an opportunity to read and understand the report and he based his decision (to oppose the policy) on what he read in the report. However, he gave grace to other council members who may not have understood the proposal and was “on the fence” about whether to support a further review.

“Seems to be a change of heart on the Council table, but for me there hasn’t. It’s a $35 million scheme. It’s risks with it and doing things a lot differently than we have. I don’t have an obsession with fixing 208th – I have more of an obsession with fixing Fraser Highway…”

-Councillor Bob Long

Councillor Bob Long appeared somewhat surprised by the shift in support for a presentation as, similar to Councillor Whitmarsh, he feels he understands the policy and ramifications of it. Councillor Long continues to advocate for incentivizing developers to get it done – get them to keep doing what they are doing (I’m sure shortchanging development cost charges for a decade was one way of “incentivizing” developers, but this doesn’t seem anymore fiscally responsible).

Councillor Long also fell back on the erroneous assumption that a DCC at $35,000 per home is going to affect the price of homes (it doesn’t: the price of homes is established by the market, not the cost to build. The cost to build, including taxes, affects the purchase price of the land developers buy. Therefore, the people most affected by by increased DCC’s are landowners of redevelopment properties).

“Truth be known, I only hear complaints about 208th from people who don’t actually live in Willoughby… For the most part its the folks in Fort Langley trying to get to Costco!”

-Councillor Bob Long

Besides Councillor Long’s rather odd comment, he is dead right when he mentioned that Langley has a car problem and it seems the growth of cars is outpacing the growth of the population. He stopped short of admitting that the decision made on Council that established an auto-oriented community over the past 40 years (of which he has been apart of for 20 of them) has led to this and will continue to lead to it.

In his opportunity to defend a 2nd attempt to have Council review the Willoughby Arterial Road Contribution Amenity Policy, he reiterated that even staff admits that there is an indefinite timeline for 208th Street to be completed.

“It’s not acceptable to me that we have 30,000 residents and we don’t have sidewalks and proper roads for kids to get to school. I don’t find this to be an acceptable situation. It’s not analogous to some previous development trends in the Township where we put 30,000 people in a developing area and have another 50,000 to go and we’re not going to finish these roads… it’s just basic requirements of a livable, functioning community.”

-Councillor Eric Woodward

Councillor Woodward followed this passionate monologue by addressing the issue of borrowing that continued to come forward from other members of Council, arguing that there is not one mention of borrowing money in the policy. There is a mention of a program that could eventually accumulate money to service debt or we have a path to finish the roads, even if it isn’t during this term. The purpose of the plan, states Woodward, is addressing the land cost issue in regards to the completion of arterial roads in a developing community.

Showing some frustration with the lack of action, Woodward reminded Councillor Whitmarsh of his commitment to fixing 208th Street during the 2018 campaign and hoped that his colleague would support looking at this one more time.

Councillor Whitmarsh defended his concern regarding borrowing, stating that the report did, in fact, mention borrowing money. While the report on the policy explains how collecting money through an amenity fee, it would take 2-3 years to have enough funds to even start on 208th Street, and over 5 years even do any significant work with the plan. He further quoted the report that it does say, “if the Township were to proceed with acquisitions prior to these funds being available, then we would have to borrow $33.5 million.”

“I’m not confused about what the report says, it does make it very clear that if its going to happen in a timely fashion, it requires the borrowing of $33.5 million and that I’m not supportive of.”

-Councillor Blair Whitmarsh

And with that, Acting Mayor Kunst called the question and it was supported by council on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor Long opposed and Mayor Froese absent.

 

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