Langley’s First High Rise Towers: What To Expect

In the mid 90’s, Langley Township started the Willoughby development experiment. By early 1998, the Willoughby Official Community Plan was approved and in it we saw hints of a brave new course for the suburban municipality. At the time, the Township had a population of just under 90,000 people with the neigbhourhood of Walnut Grove, built throughout the 1990’s, being it’s largest population base. By 2021, the Township’s population would be approaching 140,000 and Willoughby would have gone from a rural greenspace to a pseudo-urban suburban community with a population base approaching 40,000, making it the Township’s largest neighbourhood and significantly larger than the adjacent municipality of Langley City.

All of this growth started in the early 2000’s with the greatest increases in the 2010-2020 era when the Yorkson area started significant midrise condo development. Prior to the 2012 completions of Yorkson Creek by Quadra and Elements by Sandhill, the only apartment condos in the area were the 10 buildings in the older Willowbrook area, most of which had been built in the mid 90’s. Then, for 15 years there was nothing (with some exceptions in other areas of the Township during the 2005-2007 boom, which ended with the 2008 housing market collapse).

With the launch of the Yorkson NCP (Neighbourhood Community Plan) came an explosion of 4-6 storey buildings in Willoughby. 13 buildings (10 in Yorkson) which added over 2,000 units to Willoughby contributed to a slightly more “walkable” community, as many of the buildings surrounded the slowly expanding Willoughby Town Centre near the crossroads of 80th Avenue and 208th Street. Additionally, with the skyrocketing condo prices in over 2017-2018, developers jumped on board and the 2nd condo boom was about to change the face of Willoughby. As it takes 3-4 years to build one of these developments, 2021-2022 was set to be the biggest years yet for condo completions. In fact, even with the recent fire at Alexander Square, we are still expecting 18 buildings to complete in 2021 and early 2022 for a total of almost 1900 more units (Alexander Square would have added over 300 more). The fact is that we are almost doubling the number of condo units in about 1 year as we have built in the 8 years earlier combined. And that, my neighbours, is without one single high rise tower.

Regardless of what you you or I want, the high rises are coming.

High rises in the Township of Langley were actually considered as far back as 1991 in the Willowbrook Community Plan, but nothing really came of that. More recently, towers were planned in Willoughby’s 1998 OCP and have been part of more than one approved NCP since.

Over the next few years we will start seeing the impressive cranes that will become a common sight over our landscape. The economics have caught up and it finally makes financial sense for developers to start these larger projects in the Township. Whether or not we have oversaturated the market in 2021-22 which could lead to greater risk for these developers is something that remains to be seen. For those of us who already live here, I want to provide a recap of the high rise projects currently under construction, if any, as well as those approved but not yet broken ground, and what to expect over the next decade.

“THE OASIS” & The Future of Jericho

In January 2018, CarePacific brought forward their rezoning application for a collection of 7 buildings being marketed as “THE OASIS”. The collection would range from 4 to 20 storeys at the Maple Gardens site located in the sub-neighbourhood of Jericho, nestled within the larger Latimer NCP. The development permit itself was on the first phase of the project which would be the one 20 storey building.

The project will be a retirement lifestyle residence with a plethora of integrated amenities and will benefit from its central location at 200th Street and around 80th Avenue, which already housed the Langley Events Centre across the street.

As with most applications, the project breezed through first and second readings. The public hearing brought out a small number of people coming out in both support and opposition. Of the half dozen residents from Langley who attended the public hearing and the few more who wrote in, those who were in opposition seemed to be primarily from outside of the immediate Willoughby area, including two who would run for Mayor and Council later in the year, and voiced concern about the pressure this would have on the Langley Memorial Hospital.

On February 5, 2018, Third Reading was approved with Councillors David Davis, Petrina Arnason and Kim Richter opposed. Councillor Arnason opposed based on there being “no affordability component” and the potential pressure on LMH (which has since been expanded). Councillor Richter attempted to include a pedestrian overpass as a condition of the application, but this defeated.

Personally, I don’t believe seniors come out of nowhere and the majority of the future residents of the buildings would likely be current Langley residents. The seniors are already here: we just need better lifestyle options for them. This development would also have substantial seniors-oriented services, including assisted and supportive living, that would probably actually alleviate pressure on our hospital. In addition, since many of the units were assisted or supportive living units, many of the residents will likely qualify for subsidize on a personal level.

While I feel that the pedestrian overpass south of this near 64th Avenue was a colossal waste of taxpayer money since it pretty much brings no one to nowhere, this one would actually make sense with the increase in density and growing nearby amenities (especially if we ever get an Arts and Cultural Centre, which would be perfect instead of a parking lot for the Vancouver Giants). I agree with former Councillor Charlie Fox’s opinion that there is value in an overpass but that it should be a part of a future phase.

However, at the time of writing, there has not been any further activity in the public purview on this project. I hope that this project is, in fact, still moving forward and the builders are moving along to fulfil the conditions of the application. It should be noted that the builders (Don and Candy Ho are owners of Element) just completed OPAL, a similar facility in Vancouver’s Cambie Corridor, in June 2020 – a year later than anticipated.

PRESS: “New 20-storey seniors housing tower not about money, says developer” (Langley Advance Times)

The Jericho sub-neighbourhood plan was carved out of the Latimer NCP in 2011 for exactly the intention of something like Oasis. The previous owner of the Maple Gardens, who I met some years ago, had been a strong advocate for this use at this location. The plan projects a population of 5,295 people in the 120+ acres of the plan for a density of 10,762 per – and this includes the Langley Events Centre, Willoughby Community Park and the new R.E. Mountain Secondary School (the city of Vancouver is 5,400 km/2, downtown Vancouver is 16,764/km2).

Based on the allowances in the sub-NCP, the “apartment” designation has the 6-storey maximum, whereas the “High Density Mixed Use” and “High Density Residential” designations both allow for up to 20 stories – the highest in the Township. As readers can see from the Land Use map below, Willoughby could see 2 additional 20-storey tower sites north of this project, plus the 3 lots east of 200th Street that are currently owned by the Township of Langley used for parking along 80th Avenue. There is also one more site east of 200th Street, directly adjacent to Mountain Alliance Church, that could have a tower built along 76th Avenue.

However, as we will see, it only took the next high rise proposal to go beyond the NCPs.

“Latimer” Heights Towers

It’s almost impossible to drive through the Township of Langley without noticing the massive 74 acre “Latimer Heights” project by Vesta Properties along 200th Street. This is a neighbourhood unto itself comprising of high rises, midrises, offices, townhomes, rowhomes, detached homes, a community park and school. Interestingly enough, the Mixed Use Designation in the Latimer NCP allowed for a maximum of just 6 stories, with a density bonus allowance of up to 12 stories for the landmark corner of 200th Street and 80th Avenue… which would later become part of the Jericho sub-NCP and increased to 20 stories as discussed above. So how do we end up with high rises here if the maximum allowance is 6 stories?

Well, the funny thing is that a good portion of the “Latimer Heights” community, including the approved high-rise towers, isn’t in Latimer: it’s in Carvolth, which allows for up to 18 stories. In July of 2018, Vesta presented Council with their application that would include two high rises, both of which asking for a height variance to push past the 18 storey maximum for one 26 storey building and one 34 storey building.

The southwestern 26 storey building will include 192 apartments with 3 townhomes and the northwest building with 34 storeys will include 256 apartments and another 3 townhomes (there is another 4-storey midrise in this area with 32 units). All units will be between 1-3 bedrooms, but the writing on the report to council was so tiny I couldn’t see what the size and how many of each unit (usually I am able to decipher this).

The application achieved Third Reading in October 2018 with an unanimous vote. With a new council at the helm, the application received final approval in July 2019 with Councillors Richter opposed (the minutes show that Arnason was opposed, but she did not oppose during the meeting).

There was no substantial discussion on this application by Council members at either Third or Final Reading, which I found somewhat odd considering these are the tallest towers in the municipality and one councillor even changed her vote during a 9 month period (pre and post 2018 election).

Unlike the CarePacific’s OASIS in Jericho which seems to have stalled, Vesta’s Latimer Heights has moved forward at breakneck speeds with many lower density homes already occupied and several of the midrise buildings ready for completion later this year. While I don’t believe they’ve broken ground yet on the high rises (I just drove by today), I did see advertising for sales to begin Fall of 2021.

I suspect that these two towers will be the actual first high rises in Langley to be completed and may very well be the tallest buildings in Langley for a very long time. Unfortunately, due to the poor quality of drawings in the report, I can’t see how tall they actually will be.

On principle, I believe that this is the right area for high rises and I have no problem with the increase in floor sizes – so long as their is room in the firefighting budget and plans for our local Langley FD to have the right training and tools to handle the changing landscape of Willoughby. Fighting house fires is very different than fighting a fire in a 34 storey building. While these are concrete buildings and fire suppression is ever improving, fires still happen. That said, I find this buildings painfully boring and unimaginative in design. It saddens me that our first towers and likely tallest buildings in maybe a generation will be so plain and outdated looking. I do hope that the drawings end up being just poor representations of what will actually be built.

PRESS: “Two highrise apartment buildings move forward in Willoughby” (Langley Advance Times)

The Future of Carvolth High Rises

With Vesta Properties launching their two towers in the southern “Transit Village” area of the Carvolth NCP, it opens up a precedent for future Carvolth towers to exceed the 18 storey maximum of the High Density Residential designation in a number of areas in the southeast quadrant of the NCP.

86th Avenue east of 202nd Street is designated to become a “high street” mixed use corridor. Due to the proximity to the nearby Carvolth Park & Ride, this makes sense to have offerings of premium office space and retail. The Isle of Mann Group submitted a Mixed Use application back in September 2018 that included 192 residential units and 5,220 sq.ft. of retail space. However, it has not yet gone before council. Although this seems lengthy, it isn’t surprising considering its the first in this high street designation.

While I am personally interested in how successful a second “high street” designation in Willoughby will go (Willoughby Town Centre was the first), for our purposes I draw attention to the area directly south of it, along the 202nd Street corridor between 86th and 84th Avenue. This is where I wouldn’t be surprised to see another couple 18+ storey towers, even though this High Density Residential designation in Carvolth directly abuts with townhomes in Latimer to the south (just one of many awkward transitions throughout Willoughby, which makes it seem like planners didn’t really pay attention to neighbouring plans when they created new ones). However, Isle of Mann has another application for one of these properties and submitted an application for 200 units in June 2018. Some quick math tells me this will be around 85 units per acre. This density gives them some options for the number of stories, depending on the FSR (floor space ratio). The higher they go, the more non-building (ie. greenspace) they would have.

IOM has done quite a bit of work throughout Langley and Surrey, including a great rowhome complex called Ivy Row, and a LOT in the works. While their portfolio is extensive, I’m not sure if they’ve ever done a high rise. However, considering their reputation, I would expect a better than average build quality. This is one to watch as IOM generally has fairly attractive designs.

Another unique location in Carvolth that could see a number of high rises will be east of the 202nd corridor, right smack in the centre between 202nd and 204th Streets, pictured below.

Currently there are no applications on this block but I love this “integrated open space” surrounded by high density residential with a greenspace buffer in between. The NCP calls this area the “Carvolth Commons” and they have some specific ideas that could evolve over time, but all, I hope, are pretty exciting. The greenspace in the middle of the Commons will connect to the “Carvolth Mews” townhome developments that will be built to the south.

This reminds me of one of my favourite condo developments in the Lower Mainland: Burnaby South Slope’s “City in the Park”, which is a collection of 7 art deco-inspired high rises built about 17-20 years ago with shared park space in between (see Google image below).

The views in these units are phenomenal and the very short walking distance to the Edmonds Skytrain station and their own little local grocery store makes this a condo collection unlike almost anything in the region. When I see Carvolth’s “integrated green space”, I get maybe a little overly excited that we might end up with something like this. The views of the mountains and valley would be incredible and the short walk to the Park & Ride would be a commuters dream.

The Future of Yorkson’s Condos

Many of my readers will already live in Yorkson, which I believe is around half, if not more, of the population base of Willoughby at the moment. Based on the projections of all of Willoughby’s NCP’s, Yorkson will comprise of around 30% of Willoughby’s total 83-94,000 population, meaning it’ll have almost as many people as Walnut Grove at final build out. But will it end up with any towers?

The answer to this question is difficult because it really is a political one. According to the Yorkson NCP, the maximum allowable height is 12 stories. Most planners still consider this a mid-rise. While we’ve seen the first high rise development receive a variance, it wasn’t a land use change. Vesta’s towers were always designated to be high-rise… they just made it a higher-rise.

Yorkson’s apartment designation only allows up to 6 stories, which we’ve seen built en masse in recent years, with many along the 208th Street corridor completing in 2021, as previously mentioned. It is only in the “Town Market” designations that allow for “up to 12 stories on the periphery.” What I assume this would mean is that the planners envisioned 12-storey mid rises may end up along 206th Street and/or 78th Avenue.

In order to Yorkson to develop anything higher than 12 stories, it would likely require a rezoning beyond this designation. With high rises already focused in other plans and with much of the WTC area either built or already in application phases, I see anything beyond 12 stories being extremely unlikely. Already on the north section of WTC there are proposed and approved 4 and 6 storey buildings. This only leaves a parcel in the very southwest as well as another where Willoughby Elementary currently sites as possibilities for 12 stories. The southwest would be a residential/retail project whereas the site that WES is on is designated commercial.

Notable Mentions: Commercial in Carvolth

My focus on this article has been on the residential towers in Willoughby, but I should note that our skyline will have many more buildings if we consider the commercial buildings in Carvolth. Firstwest already built one 6 storey midrise but is planning on adding a 12-storey immediately beside it. Although the plan does not mention a specific maximum storey height for commercial, it does state a maximum of 50 meters, which equates to around 12 stories. This design caused some controversy, which, relative to some other painfully drab designs for midrise and highrises in Langley, I was a bit surprised about.

Speaking of which, earlier in 2019, Mitchell Group advanced two 11 storey buildings including one office building and one hotel. When I first saw the press release I was shocked at how ugly they looked. However, when I looked at the actual application I realized it was just our local media picking a bad rendering. The actual design isn’t horrible, and it includes a conference centre that is badly needed and perfectly located in the Carvolth Gateway which is directly south of the 200th Street interchange (images below shows the media-reported rendering on the left with the report to council rendering in the middle and right).

As Carvolth continues to develop, I would suspect that you’ll see a few more 12 storey commercial midrises in the Gateway area, but I would doubt to see anything break that 50 meters anytime soon. This plan was created in conjunction with some feedback from Metro Vancouver and the Province as it had to integrate Highway #1 in with it, which comes with its own set of extra-municipal regulations and guidelines.

The Rest of Willoughby: NCP Maximums

That covers the future of Jericho/Latimer, Carvolth, and Yorkson, which will account for approximately 65% of Willoughby’s total population at build out. But what about the other neighbourhoods of Willoughby? Most of Willoughby’s height maximums top at 6 storeys, including Yorkson (with the exception of the Town Market designation that may never actually see 12 storeys). Both the Northeast and Southwest Gordon Estate plans max out at 6 storeys, as does the Smith NCP. Central Gordon has a maximum of 4 storeys, but 5 for mixed use buildings and Williams has a maximum of 4 storeys. Routley didn’t plan for any apartments.

This isn’t to say that 6 storeys will actually be the maximum. However, I would expect any variances in these plans to maintain a midrise designation, never topping 12 storeys. Even this would be highly unlikely. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Northeast Gordon and Smith both end up with some 8-storey midrises in the future, but only time will tell.

Willowbrook: The Big Question Mark

Willowbrook sort of just gets thrown into the Willoughby Development Area but it really doesn’t factor into modern development. With the exception of a few projects here and there, there hasn’t been much residential activity in Willowbrook for years. Yet there have been murmurs for years about massive redevelopment. The 1991 Willowbrook Community Plan does actually allow for high rise buildings of over 12 storeys, but the economics just haven’t really been there in the past.

Back in 2009, local corporation Berezan Hospitality Group presented ideas that called for towers of 24 to 28 storeys in the Willowbrook Shopping Centre area – essentially, it would be Langley’s Brentwood Mall or Metrotown-style development area. However, from what I have been led to believe, I think that company has pulled out of its real estate development interests in that area. Owners of the Willowbrook Shopping Centre recently just made some upgrades to the current mall and are preparing for Skytrain, which indicate that there aren’t really any plans for a major overhaul involving towers in the near future for the Township of Langley side.

However, Langley City has moved full force ahead with its transit village, currently in its final stages of adopting a bold new OCP (see below).

The Future of Aldergrove?

Original Janda Rendering (March 2019)

I’ve gushed enough about Aldergrove’s incredible 2010 Core Area Plan for many years so I’ll save you my thoughts on how wonderful I think it is and I’ll stick to what Aldergrove should expect.

The 2010 Aldergrove Core Area Plan (ACAP) set a height limit on both its High Density Mixed Use and High Density Residential designations to 16 storeys or 50 meters. Yes, I realize that this equation does conflict a bit with what we’ve said about 50 meters in the past, but commercial buildings and residential buildings do generally have different ceiling heights.

The planners of the ACAP envisioned 4 sites along Bertrand Creek that would see up to 16-storey towers. So when the Janda Group collected a number of properties at the old mall site, which comprised of a large area where planners envisioned 2 high-rises, Janda proposed one 28-storey tower. Because, why not? After hosting multiple developer information meetings in Aldergrove, they listened and scaled back.

The final proposal of the multi-building project that went before council included three 6-storey midrises, one 10-storey midrise (with parkade) and one 12-storey midrise. Janda’s rezoning passed 3rd Reading in February 2020 and was given streamlined status by Council. It has not yet come before Council for Final Reading. However, with a maximum of one 12-storey midrise, there are technically no planned high-rises in Aldergrove but there are still two more sites (3147/3159 272nd Street & the collection of lots at 31A Avenue just west of 271st Street) that could potentially see 16-storey (or more) buildings.

BONUS: Langley City Moves to 15 Storeys

The City’s previous/current 2005 plan was relatively dense, but there wasn’t any consideration of true high rises. Only the Langley Mall area in the south and the Prairie Station in the north had designations for “high density” which has a maximum of 46 meters – which is under the 50 meters we see with the new 12 storey commercial building in Carvolth.

The upcoming new plan densifies and modernizes planning, but doesn’t provide for radical height differences. There are now 3 areas that will allow for up to 15 stories: Transit Oriented Core, Transit Oriented Residential and Civic Centre. Additionally, the Mixed Use and Mid Rise Residential designations will allow for up to 12 storeys. Several other areas will allow for 6 storeys with the University District providing an 8 storey maximum.

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