I can’t believe it’s almost been a year since I posted on BetterLangley.com. While I’ve continued to post articles and comments on A Better Langley’s Facebook page, my focus has been on family and business over the past year. However, I’ve continued to stream Township of Langley council meetings and keep tabs on the affairs of our municipality.
I’ve certainly have a lot of critiques during the term, which I’ve shared both privately and on social media. I’m sure I’ll be mentioning a lot of these over the next 6 months. There are a lot of people who feel that the Township of Langley council is dysfunctional. I probably agree. Yet dysfunction can still get stuff done. However, before we get into the full swing of this election year and the gloves come off, I feel that we should give credit where credit is due: it isn’t all bad.
There were 4 changes since the 2018 election, in my opinion, that this sometimes extremely chaotic and certainly, at times, petter council managed to pull off that are actually very positive and, dare I say – amazing. I might actually even argue that the last 4 years saw more positive changes for urban planning than the past 8. It was often slow and painful with a lot of compromises, but that’s politics. This list will probably surprise you, however, in how boring, mundane and uncontroversial some of these items are. I’m a nerd. But some of these under the radar changes could have huge long term benefits. Unfortunately I only wrote about 2 of these and the Langley Advance Times may have only mentioned 1. I’m going by memory on some of the details, but I’ll do my best to verify the important facts.
What Isn’t On This List
What you won’t find on this list is greenwashing, lip service, or populist vote-buying motions. This means that no, the Township of Langley’s new tree bylaw won’t be on here. To be frank, it is useless garbage that was no more than an attempt to placate the public that they know isn’t really engaged in local politics. You won’t see any adopted neighbourhood plans on this list, nor will you see attempts to fast track more “stroads”. There were also no particular development applications that were actually unique, innovative or particularly transit or pedestrian friendly – with perhaps one exception. But that one doesn’t make my list because council didn’t even push to make it better: they just rubber stamped what the developer that gave most of them campaign contributions wanted, so I can’t really give them props – sorry.
4. Approving Stepping Stone Community Service Society’s “Creek Stone” Housing
Right after the new council had just been sworn in, they were faced with a controversial decision in the face of irate NIMBYs spreading misinformation and fear. The former Quality Inn site near Home Depot at 6465 201st Street was to be transformed into supportive housing for local homeless. The Public Hearing was full and spirited, with many in the nearby neighbourhood, which I lived in, came out to oppose, fearing that it would draw crime. Thankfully, Council saw the need, showed compassion for the less fortunate, and recognized the great work of the Society that was going to manage to the site. Council passed the re-zoning unanimously in a rare show of unity on a controversial issue.
Read more: Why I Support Housing Willoughby’s Homeless (November 28, 2018) & Langley Township Council does the right thing, supports housing the homeless (December 13, 2018)
Supported: Mayor Jack Froese, Councillors Blair Whitmarsh, Eric Woodward, Kim Richter, Margaret Kunst, Steve Ferguson, Bob Long, Petrina Arnason, David Davis
3. Subdivision Bylaw Revisions
I can see how excited everyone is about this one! Not only did the local media not say a word about it, neither did I. Granted, subdivision bylaws don’t exactly offer breaking news sort of headlines. Yet I was actually was quite pleased at 2019 revision to the subdivision bylaw revision. It subtlety changed the way that all future residential subdivisions will build local roads and on street parking. This is one of these seemingly inconspicuous bylaws that flies under the radar but actually have significant effects on how our communities develop and grow.
So what gets Brad so excited for this one to slide into the top 4? Well, as someone who lives in Willoughby, I haven’t understood why we’ve continued to make subdivisions with maze-like lanes where no one can really park on the street because it’s all front-loading (garage in front) homes and the bylaw actually says you can only park on one side anyway. Even with references to a grid road system and H-shape subdivisions in the later NCPs, most of Willoughby is a planning failure. Because there is no grid or true local roads, you the one side that you could legally park on is eaten up by multiple corners and bends.
Fast forward to an era of radically decreasing housing affordability and basement suites becoming common place, you suddenly have neighbourhoods where you have 4-6 cars per household, where a garage is full of “stuff”, the homeowners have 2 cars up top, the teenagers and renters have cars on the street, and you multiple that by 7-8 homes per acre and suddenly there is no parking. This is one reason Yorkson is a complete mess, to be honest. It’s not that it was built much differently than further down on the Willoughby slope – it was simply built at a time (5-15 years later) of rising housing values that almost required everyone to have a mortgage helper.
It’s not as though the solution wasn’t available. Many “urban” cities have suburban neighbourhoods – even Vancouver – where street parking is actually of little worry: it’s the design that counts. The design of the street may be built by a developer, but it is guided by the subdivision bylaw. So finally, in 2019, we updated our bylaw to a more contemporary standard. The new bylaw allows parking on BOTH sides of the road and SHOULD limit the number of front loading homes (you can’t park on the street if you need a driveway). Although there hasn’t been a lot of single family development since this was enacted (approximately 250 single family homes per year), this combination should increase the available on-street residential parking per household by 30-50% – all by simply changing the design of subdivisions. While this was likely a staff-driven concept, I give credit to the council that enacted a more modern bylaw.
Supported: Mayor Jack Froese, Councillors Blair Whitmarsh, Eric Woodward, Kim Richter, Margaret Kunst, Steve Ferguson, Bob Long, David Davis
Opposed: Councillor Petrina Arnason
2. Massive DCC Increases… 5 Years Late
In 2012, the Township of Langley set the Development Cost Charges (DCC) rates that developers pay when developing new residences and commercial space. The amount depends on how many units are created and what property type it is. When this council was elected in 2018, they were still using the DCC rates from 2012. In 2012, the typical single family home in Willoughby was under $550,000. New homes were a bit higher – around $599,000. That meant that a typical 8 UPA one acre lot was sitting on a potential of $4.8 million in new homes. A developer could by a “ready-to-develop” 1 acre lot for $800,000-$950,000.
Between 2012 and 2018, we had massive increases in land prices, lumber prices, labour prices and pretty much everything related to housing. By 2019, the Township of Langley had not increased their DCC’s even once. Prior to being elected, Eric Woodward had brought this up numerous times before and during his 2018 campaign. These DCCs are the fees that pay for our infrastructure. While the status quo on council cried out that development paid for development, there was a problem. The developers are suppose to pay for the infrastructure, but what happens when that amount that the Township was requesting comes no where close to the actual expenditure? If the developer only has to pay you 60 cents but the taxpayer pays $1, what then?
By 2019, the price of land and labour had skyrocketed. The typical Willoughby home was then over $1,000,000 and to buy an acre of land would cost over $2.2 million – not including the usual premium that the Township usually pays landowners. Newly elected, Councillor Woodward would push enough for a report that would show how devastatingly low the DCC rate was and a strongly worded recommendation to council to adopt a massive increase. While some developers pushed back, there was a sense that there was no surprise that this was coming. Langley’s developers KNEW they were getting a great deal when building here and it was the taxpayer that would either have to foot the bill or have to wait until later development would pay for the infrastructure that was previously promised in some sort of Ponzi-like infrastructure scheme.
This significant change might be my number one pick if it wasn’t for the fact that the grace period would likely still cost taxpayers a ton of money AND that it didn’t attach any automatic annual formula to account for future “necessary” increases. Yes, there was an amendment passed that would have provided at least an annual report:
That Council direct staff to consider and present Council with an annual
update to the proposed DCC Bylaw based on the Vancouver Consumer
Price Index, or other considerations.
Unfortunately, the province rejected the Township’s DCC bylaw because of an attempt to authorize the inclusion of interest charges for the 232nd interchange project. This meant that the 2019 DCC Bylaw would be further delayed, plus a provincially-mandated one year grace period for applications that are in stream. It was finally adopted in March 2020, which would mean that developers would still be paying the almost decade-old DCC rate if they got final approval before March 2021.
So by the time that this bylaw actually got adopted and the grace periods just wore off, here we are in 2022 and the typical Willoughby home is $1.85m and one acre parcels are selling for $5-6 million. This means that the “new” 2019/2020 DCC rate that is finally being enforced is already even more out of date than the 2010 one was in 2019. This inability to keep up with the market will lead to a further infrastructure deficit that will force future councils into some very unpopular decisions, despite the written intention to regularly review the program:
To keep the DCC program as current as possible, the Township should review its program annually.Development Cost Charge Bylaw Review and Update, UrbanSystems
Based on its annual review, the Township may make minor amendments to the DCC rates. The Township should apply a CPI inflation factor, as permitted by the legislation, annually. Typically, a major amendment to the DCC program and rates is recommended every 5 years.
I do give significant credit to council for getting this adopted – these were NOT small increases. These were massive 75-90% increases. Yet it’s already too little much too late and so far no one is doing much to stay on top of it as this time. It’ll be up to the next council to, once again, push for DCC rates that aren’t essentially subsidized by the taxpayer.
Supported: Mayor Jack Froese, Councillors Blair Whitmarsh, Eric Woodward, Kim Richter, Margaret Kunst, Steve Ferguson, Bob Long, Petrina Arnason, David Davis
1. Parking Requirement Minimums Decreased
“Nobody can opt out of paying for parking. People who walk, bike, or take transit are bankrolling those who drive. In so doing, they are making driving cheaper and thus more prevalent, which in turn undermines the quality of walking, biking and transit”. – Jeff Speck
Contemporary progressive city planners know that the best urban designs start by getting the parking right. It is not an overstatement to suggest that absolutely everything starts with parking – what you can build, how you can build it, how you get there, etc – all is conditioned on how a city plans its parking. If you plan it for cars, you will get cars. If you plan it for people, you will get people.
I already made my case for making Langley more walkable by fixing the parking here. So what did Council do that I thought was so great? On November 22, 2021, with no fanfare and no opposition from anyone in the Township of Langley at the public hearing, council completely hacked the parking minimums in the Township of Langley from 1 space for 20m2 and 28m2 (of gross floor area) for retail, office and industrial lands to 1 space for 35m2 of gfa. This means that instead of needing to provide 835 parking spaces for your 180,000 sq.ft. Walmart, you now only need to provide 477 spaces. Or if you have a 1,700 sq.ft. coffee shop, you don’t need to provide 8 parking spots, you only need to provide 4.5. When you look at the photo above, how many empty parking stalls do you see? Why are we building parking that forces more and more single storey buildings to spread out?
While many suburbanites who rely on cars may be irked at this, this is what will allow more retail areas to feel more like Fort Langley with busy pedestrian activity and less like, well, the picture above. It will allow for better buildings and better designed communities that are people-focused, not car-centric. Which brings me to the biggest criticism of reducing or removing parking minimums. Many in the public might say that this hurts businesses or is inconvenient since its harder to find parking. While the statistics show this simply isn’t true, examples are easier to understand.
I live in Willoughby, but my kids go to school in Fort Langley. I also work throughout the Township. I use to work at a real estate office right in the heart of Fort Langley. I never once was unable to find free public parking. On the busiest days, yes, I might have to circle 2 blocks twice, max. I might even have to, dare I say, walk, 400-500 meters. The busy-ness is proof of Fort Langley’s success. In fact, and no offence, but Fort Langley has some of the most trivial stores with the highest prices in the area – and they’re thriving.
Willoughby and Willowbrook has strip malls. Take another look at that photo above. Look at all that parking. Shoppers will literally drive from Save on Foods to Walmart or to Best Buy one block away. It is uninteresting, inconvenient, and unsafe to walk from one to the other. You can’t walk from the London Drugs to the local cafe or frozen yogurt shop without being a human pylon. This isn’t necessarily because the developer wanted it this way. They HAD to build it this way because they were forced to build hundreds upon hundreds of surface parking stalls to meet the parking minimum requirements. Fort Langley, on the other hand, had a special exemption of 50% parking minimums so that it could maintain its historic village design.
Cities all around North America are doing away with parking minimums – Toronto, Portland, Buffalo, Hartford or even small towns like Sandpoint, Idaho. StrongTowns has been keeping track of such cities through their article: Every City Should Abolish Its Minimum Parking Requirements. Has Yours?
While the Township of Langley didn’t abolish their parking minimums, the reduction was a significant step in the right direction, especially for a community that is densifying and focused on more transit oriented development. We can’t keep building the cars and we need to change our habits. It’s a slow process, and it can be uncomfortable for those who have enjoyed unsustainable privileges, but they were just that – unhealthy and destructive privileges. This doesn’t mean that every developer is going to do away with parking – it means that there needs to be a solid business case for the parking that everyone ends up paying for in the end.
Supported: Mayor Jack Froese, Councillors Blair Whitmarsh, Eric Woodward, Kim Richter, Margaret Kunst, Bob Long, Petrina Arnason, David Davis
Opposed: Councillor Steve Ferguson
Towards the Future
The Township of Langley is a great community, but it continues to build too many boring, uninviting and even soulless residential bedroom neighbourhoods that don’t foster a healthy or sustainable lifestyle. Not only is this environmentally unsustainable, it has detrimental affects on mental health and is ridiculously economically backwards. We can’t afford it. We are buying time by building density without the supporting infrastructure.
To face the next generations, we need to do business differently than we have. We need to make less compromises with developer who want to cut corners and with uninspired staff that mislead council and the public and have an archaic way of building communities.
Once again in 2022 I will NOT be voting or endorsing the status quo. I will be looking for candidates that want to take the best of what we’ve done, such as the four items above, continue to build homes for people, but make the Township as amazing as it can be. We can admit our faults and respect our heritage while also moving towards a bold new future.