Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Change Happens

Last night's Public Hearing at Township of Langley Council was packed to capacity, as Mr. Tony McCamley of Athenry Developments (pronounced ah-then-rye) presented a proposal for the Southwest Gordon Estate area of Willoughby. Its an interesting mixed-use development for a number of reasons, and I think it also represents a significant shift that we will soon see more of. I'd like to point out that I do not know Mr. McCamley nor his company or anyone connected with it to the best of my knowledge. I simply found myself embracing this community plan and wanted to share it with you.

This development is driven by a long-time Langley resident who wants to build a mixed- use centre for the Irish community. I'm sure it will also be wide open to the general public as well. His big dream includes an Irish Cultural Centre that will house world-class Irish dancers, putting Langley on the international stage with some competitive dance events that will happen right here in Langley. If this is not a tall order in itself, the site would also provide affordable Irish Senior's housing, a headquarters office for a non-profit community health care society, and a 50 seat Irish Pub. As the current site contains the old Willoughby Community Hall, the developer proposes to spend a few hundred thousand dollars that will be necessary to bring the old community hall up to code, then place it near a new treed park to be built on the site. The Willoughby Hall society concedes that without this boost in the arm, the hall is likely to be no more, as they have no people to do the work, nor the money to bring it up to snuff.

One by one, people spoke for and against the Bylaw to establish this centre. Neighbours that moved into the area less than 2 years ago said they were told that this plot would become a low-rise strip mall. Its too bad that sales people and marketers pass along rumors like that to sell developments. If buyers are that concerned about future development, they can always access a community plan online, or visit the Township Planning Dept. where the staff are very helpful. You can clearly see from the Township development plans for this area that they include high-density development in and around the single-family homes, where these opponents live. We aren't trying to take sides here or dump on these homeowners, but as the south Fraser grows, people no longer wish to drive to Vancouver to visit their cultural centre. I suspect we will see more of these developments spring up. Of course mixed-use is good for providing a host of transit options. Our seniors deserve good, quality streetcars and light rail transit to keep them active and connected to the community. Streetcars at curb level would provide easy on/off loading without any steps up. Our community is aging rapidly and we need transit options now to serve them.

Many of these homeowners said they were for the centre, but wanted to see it placed somewhere else. It was very much a Not in My Back Yard kind of night. Many proposed an "industrial site" or something near the big box stores. I sat there and thought how unfair it was that these Irish seniors should be pushed aside, and made to live near some commercial complexes. Why can't they enjoy the neighbourhood and green space of a regular neighbourhood as well?

Others complained that an area marked "Cafe" in the early plans is really a Pub that would consume massive floor space and attract noise. The developer's people explained that the Township was given early plans when a cafe was being thought of. It has now evolved into a 50 seat Pub. Now I'm not Irish, but please tell me what Irish community on earth would not have a local pub to socialize at? Its part and parcel of the community and culture, and 50 seats is not going to create a Granville Street. Still others said it would negatively impact their property resale values.

I find Irish dancing interesting and entertaining. I'm not about to drive to Vancouver to enjoy an evening of it, and I certainly wouldn't want to do that, and have a pint ot two. But I would take it all in if it was all in my neighbourhood and I could hit the road home sober or walk.

While I can empathize with homeowners that were told grand stories of what their neighbourhood would look like, they had the ability to perform their own due diligence. I (as an individual) sure hope the Irish community gets their centre and the affordable senior housing. I'd love to visit their cultural centre and watch some of the spirited dancing. This Italian would be sure to grab a bowl of Irish lamb stew or bangers in the pub with you.

A wise man in his late 80's made his way to the podium. He said that he hadn't moved his home in something like 89 years. It was a simple but profound thing that he said next..."I've seen allot of change over the years. So much change. But I can tell you that change is going to happen". This older man in bluejeans has probably seen what many would consider to be his world turned upside down. He put his personal desires aside many times over the years I'm sure. He embraced the future for the sake of his neighbours. Isn't that what true "community" is all about? I was humbled by this man.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was Hugh Davis, 83 years young, who lives down the hill in Milner.

The man is a legend...