Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Farming important for the Township of Langley

One of my biggest concerns about the agricultural land reserve in Langley is that it is being chipped away at slowly by non-farm use permits and subdivision. Some people don’t have a problem with this because they don’t see farm land as important, but I do. The Township of Langley recently released the results of phase I and II of an Agricultural Viability Strategy that started back in 2010. The reports confirms that farming is very important for Langley.
Agriculture in Langley is characterized by a diversity of crops and livestock operations. It is a $257 million industry, with a total farm capital of $1.9 billion in 2006. The soils in Langley are highly suitable for agriculture. With improved irrigation or drainage, 75% of all ALR lands would be capable of achieving Class 1 to 3 type soils, which are considered the top classes for agricultural capability.
Over 55% of land in the ALR in Langley is being actively farmed with average gross receipts per farm increasing from $71,756 in 1985 to $176,812 in 2005.

One of the concerns brought forward in the reports is the amount of small-lots in the ALR that impact the viability of farming in Langley.
While there are fewer opportunities to develop viable farm operations on small lots, developing opportunities for small lots will have to be a priority moving forward in encouraging sustainable farm activity.
The Township of Langley has something called a “Small Farms/Country Estates” zone in the ALR which makes farming even less viable. In fact in phase two of the study identifies small lots as a barrier to farming.
Properties are not large enough to support a viable farm: Many reasons were cited why the land was not farmed. One of the most common reasons was the size and suitability of the land for farming.
It will be very exciting to see the recommendation of the Agricultural Viability Strategy as they are now starting work on phase III.
Clearly, the agriculture industry is economically, environmentally and socially important to the Township of Langley. It makes a major economic contribution and occupies 75% of the land base. Agriculture in the Township produces a significant portion of the region’s food supply as well as providing valuable green space and habitat. The climate, resources and proximity to Vancouver are very positive factors for the long term health of agriculture in the Township.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Smart Growth Debate Follow-up

Over the last few days, there has been some articles, posts, and emails about the Smart Growth debate. I would like to share some of the responses. The first response is from Frank Bucholtz of the Langley Times.

The gist of their arguments was this. Litman says that denser neighbourhoods allow people to walk, cycle and use transit more easily. They also promote a feeling of neighbourliness, and people end up having more money to spend if they don’t need a vehicle, or need one infrequently.

O’Toole says that smart growth policies have driven up the cost of housing and limited freedom of choice, because high housing costs preclude many people who want to own a home on a lot from doing so. He sees no need for any type of protection for agricultural land, because “housing is more valuable than farmland.”
Todd Litman posted his thoughts on Planetizen about the debate and followed up to some of the criticism O'Toole had about Smart Growth. Litman rebuts the follow points:

-Smart growth deprives people of freedom
-Smart growth reduces housing affordability
-Smart growth fails to reduce driving, energy consumption, air pollution emissions and infrastructure costs
-Public transit is inefficient
-Everybody (or at least most “normal” people) want single-family homes and automobile travel
-Farmland preservation is unimportant
Smart growth sometimes faces organized opposition by critics. It is important that planners respond effectively and professionally. Here is my critique of O'Toole’s claims and some advice for planners who face similar critics
Finally, I received an email from John Niles who came all the way from Seattle about his thoughts on the debate. I thought I'd share some of his email:
My take on Randal's arguments -- freedom to live how we want and develop land how we want is available throughout the USA and Canada, but localities also have the freedom under law to constrain choice via land use controls (zoning, urban boundaries, agricultural land reserves) and transportation infrastructure decisions (example, freeway exit locations) which are local collective decisions that I don't oppose in principle. If you like how much Houston's form has turned out better than you like San Francisco, move to Houston. Same for people in Houston who like San Francisco. (By the way, my friends and relatives who live in Houston say, "not a great place to visit, but a great place to live.") Analogous thinking applies to lifestyle location choices in Canada, say between Calgary and Vancouver. I don't believe that constraint of available consumer choices because of smart growth policies is an important problem given the vast variety of location choices available in both countries.

I do agree with Randal that automobiles are a dominant technology and will remain so. He's spot on in urging attention to rapid progress being made in driverless vehicles by Google, Volkswagen, and the worldwide automobile and electronics industry.

My take on Todd's arguments -- I too like to live in urban walkable communities, but more than him I understand, appreciate, and celebrate the unstoppable forces that lead people to choose the suburbs, especially the availability of bigger houses, good jobs, and better schools. Land use controls (agricultural and other green space reserves) and land use limits from mountains and coastlines combine to drive up Lower Mainland housing prices and motivate living in smaller residences. I personally like big dense downtowns, but I understand people not wanting to pay the dollars per square foot to live in these dense urban neighborhoods like Belltown and South Lake Union in Seattle.

Now, uncontrollable phase of life issues are key in location preferences and decision making, and by that I mean marriage, domestic partnerships, children, career choices, divorce, aging, health, and so on. These forces collectively are much more important in shaping location and mobility than transportation and land use policies.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Smart Growth Debate Media

We had a great turnout at last night’s debate on smart growth. For those of you that couldn’t make it, I’ve posted the audio and presentations from the debate below. The presentations were used turning the first part of the debate. More information on the debaters can be found on a previous post as can the debate's resolution. Todd Litman, the proponent of the resolution, won the debate.

Proponent's Presentation - Todd Litman

Opponent's Presentation - Randal O'Toole


Download the audio from the Internet Archive.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Smart Growth Debate Tomorrow Night

South Fraser OnTrax would like to invite you to attend a debate on applying Smart Growth principles in the South of the Fraser with Todd Litman and Randal O'Toole. More Information...

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
7pm to 9pm
Fraser River Presentation Theatre
Township of Langley Municipal Hall
20338 65 Avenue
Langley, BC V2Y 3J1

Seating is limited and reservations are recommended. Please email to reserve your seat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Drive-Thrus in Downtown Langley - Update

Last summer I wrote a blog post about a drive-thru Wired Monk coffee shop that is being proposed to be built in Downtown Langley.

Red = Downtown Zoning
While coffees shops are great, like the nearby Starbucks, this proposed coffee shop will have a drive-thru. While I’d rather not see any drive-thrus in Langley as they promote idling and a non-pedestrian-friendly environment, they are not going to disappear from auto-oriented areas like the Langley Bypass. They should disappear from Downtown Langley though. It makes no sense to put new drive-thrus in the Downtown core if you are trying to make it pedestrian friendly. Apparently, many people on Langley’s Advisory Planning Committee don’t share my view if this recent motion is any indication. The motion seems to only be concerned about traffic.
MOVED BY Commission Member MacDonald
SECONDED BY Commission Member Gillis

THAT Development Permit Application DP 02-12 to accommodate a 153m2 (1,650 sq ft) coffee shop with drive-through facility at 20112 Fraser Highway be tabled and referred back to the Advisory Planning Commission after completion and acceptance of the applicant’s traffic study to finalize the circulation pattern and layout of the parking and drive-through lane to ensure that the proposed development does not adversely impact adjacent streets or properties.
This proposed drive-thru would be allowed with the current zoning in the area, but with the higher-density residential development that is being built that zoning doesn’t make sense anymore. We should be trying to promote active modes of transportation in Langley's core, not driving.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Downtown Langley - New Mixed-use Development

I was very excited to see one of the first examples of an infill development in the City of Langley that actually is built on top of an existing building. The proposed development is located near 203rd Street at Fraser Highway. The building was constructed in 1993 with the provision for residential development to be built on top. It looks like that time has come.

Render of proposed new development.
One of the interesting things about lots in Downtown Langley is that they are very narrow and long. This development takes advantage of that “feature” by designing an inner courtyard that will allow more natural light into the residential units.

Ground Floor and Parking Plan. Click image to enlarge.

Typical residential floor plan. Click image to enlarge.
This is an exciting development and is a refreshing departure from the residential-only buildings that have been constructed lately in the City. I look forward to seeing this project complete. There is a Committee of the Whole meeting at the City of Langley Hall tonight at 7pm if you want to comment on the project.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sprawl coming to Langley near Trinity Western University

Well, it looks like one of the best examples of suburban sprawl is on its way to becoming reality in the Township of Langley.
Proposed Single-Family Housing Development Near Glover Road and Highway 10.
A development application by Wall Financial Corporation to build 67 single-family houses in farmland was somehow approved by the Agricultural Land Commission in what is pretty much the trickiest ALC application I’ve seen and is now at council for rezoning approval. Orginally billed as an "equestrian community" it is now being bundled as "student housing" with the Trinity Western University District Proposal with the provision of the “construction of a trail network linking the site to Trinity Western University (TWU)”. While student housing looks nice on paper, it seems to me like this equestrian-student-housing-community is going to be nothing more then housing for rich people.

There is nothing sustainable about building single-family houses in the middle of farmland and this development will ensure that everyone who lives there will need to drive everywhere to do anything for a very long time. It is this sort of tricky development that makes me loss faith in Langley at times. Wall Financial Corporation basically spent 10 years chipping away to get this development approved and I guess if you chip away long enough you’ll get your way.

While the majority of development in Langley is happening along the 200th Street corridor and is on its way to becoming urban and sustainable, it is applications like this that give our part of the region a bad reputation as people that are ready to pave over farmland for a quick dollar at the expense of future generations.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rural issues still priority in the Township of Langley

One of the things I notice about the Township of Langley is the urban/rural divide, and how it seems that the rural part of the Township gets priority over the urban part sometimes. Yesterday, I was looking over the Council Priority Minutes. Out of the 10 or so council priorities that were capital projects or had the potential become a capital project, only one (a potential fine arts centre) could be built in the urban Walnut Grove/Willoughby corridor. One of the things that stuck out was the funding being put into the horse community in south Langley. Items that made it on the list include:
Moved by Councillor Dornan,
Seconded by Councillor Fox,
The costs and concept of conducting a study on the potential of building an Equestrian Facility.

Moved by Councillor Fox,
Seconded by Councillor Ferguson,
Approve funding of $50,000 in 2012 for the South Langley Regional Trail and
$450,000 in 2013; both funded from surplus.
While I don’t have any issue with funding trails it seems interesting that so much money is being poured into something that only a small portion of Langley will use, while the Township has trouble building sidewalks in Brookswood. As someone pointed out to me recently, there is only one councillor that actually lives in the high-growth area of Langley and that is certainly evident in the council’s priority. As voter turnout is really low in urban Langley, it’s not surprising that rural issues still get priority in the Township of Langley and I can’t fault the councillors who represent the people who actually vote.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Surrey Citizens Transportation Initiative - Transportopia Project

A very interesting proposal arrived in my inbox the other day about a proposed bike parking and car-pooling project called Transportopia Project. The aim of the project is to provide the following services in the South of Fraser:
A different way of Car-Pooling, mainly locally (regular option, free):
A green flag with a T on members’ car: they wish to transport someone;
A small green banner with T pinned on members’ clothes: they wish to be transported.
Shared cost of rides: 2 to 10 cents/km (how many riders and if agreed detours).

Car-Pooling + phone call service ($10 membership + $15 annual fee):
Through a co-op phone line, you tell where you are and where you go.
So you are always sure to find car-pooling partners at any time anywhere you are.

A bicyclists’ Dream becoming true (Super Option: same as above):
A safe way of bicycling through calm routes, with maps provided;
Guarded bike parking lots in town centres in co-operation with malls and city halls;
Scooters and bikes rentals (with baskets) to move in town centres and in between them;
Paid members take care of bikes facilities, and register new members.

An innovative Workshop to get eco-friendly vehicles (Super Option):
- To improve car efficiency with the help of car mechanics;
- To transform gas engines cars into electric engines cars (mechanics and electricians);
- To build a prototype of a solar car.
This is a pretty bold project that the Surrey Citizens Transportation Initiative (SurreyCiTI) is working on putting together and is very ambitious. While some people might dismiss the idea of the car-pooling plan there are examples in North America of this sort of program. If you want more information I suggest you check out their document on the project.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Township of Langley Public Hearing - Coming Soon

Well it looks like the Township of Langley has a jam-packed public hearing scheduled for later this month. On the list of items which council can “hear” the public on are:

A new 42m/138ft. cell phone tower at the Highway 1 / 232 Street interchange.

Proposed Site for New Telecommunication Tower

At the 64th Avenue Power Centre, it looks like Jim Pattison is going to be adding some infill development to replace the gas bar that used to be attached to the Save-on Foods.

New Commercial Retail Unit at the 64th Avenue Power Centre

Near 208th Street and 80th Avenue, there is an application to rezone 5 acres of land in the Yorkson Neighbourhood to facilitate a mixed residential development consisting of approximately 16 single family lots, 9 rowhouse lots and 22 townhouse units.

Proposed Site Plan for Residential Development in Yorkson
The final item for public hearing is an application to rezones 1 acre of land located at 19855 68 Avenue to permit a subdivision to create four fee-simple single family lots.

The interesting thing is that I think the most controversial item on the agenda will be the proposed cell tower. I find it very interesting that people who oppose cell tower also have cell phones themselves.

Public Hearing Details

Monday, February 27, 2012
at 7:00pm
at the Fraser River Presentation Theatre
4th Floor, 20338 – 65 Avenue, Langley, BC

Friday, February 10, 2012

Carvolth Neighbourhood Plan Open House

I have been following the process of updating the Carvolth Neighbourhood Plan for a while now. Last night, I attended the open house on the plan update. I was struck again at the amount of change that can happen because of a park and ride lot and Bus Rapid Transit. Outside of the City of Langley, Carvolth east of 200th Street, will be the only other truly transit-oriented area in Langley. Looking at some of the pictures they had on display, it could almost bring tears to the eyes of someone that cares about sustainability.

A Livable Community. Click Image to Enlarge.
Another interesting slide was a map of transit access in the area. It appears that 200th Street will finally become part of TransLink’s frequent transit network which will open up more sustainable development opportunities along the corridor.

Transit Accessible Areas. Click Image to Enlarge.
One of the challenges that I see with the plan is the light-industrial area west of 200th Street. As you can see on the previous slide, it is the area outside of transit access. Speaking to Township staff last night, they told me that they kept the area light-industrial because TransLink will not provide transit service in the area and they are concerned about the traffic that would be generated from more intensive uses. Light-industrial in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but it seems to me that these types of business end up in Port Kells, Delta, and probably Campbell Heights now. It would be a shame to see this area turn into another under-utilized Gloucester Industrial Estates. Maybe one of the solutions to providing transit in that area would be to start a private bus service like is being proposed by the Aldergrove Trolley Association. If TransLink won’t do it, I've heard that the private sector will. Being aware that the west side of Carvolth is zoned as mixed-employment lands, this would allow more mixed-use office development and less warehouses to be built in the gateway to Langley.

Salmon colour is land zoned mixed-employment by Metro Vancouver. Click image to enlarge.
Generally I have a good feeling about this plan, but the vibe I got from people at the open house was that the plan for Carvolth west of 200th Street still needs some tweaking.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The City of Langley's 2012 Budget and the High Cost of Parking

Tonight, the City of Langley is hosting an open house on their 2012 budget. Last night, I had a look at the capital budget. I’m sure many people know that the Cascades Casino generates a lot of money for the City, but it still amazes me that 47% of the City’s capital budget is paid for from slots machines and card games. I wanted to highlight some of the big ticket items in the 2012 capital budget that I’ve been following.

Robert Bank Rail Corridor Overpasses - $2.8 million
The City's contribution to the 196 St rail overpass project in partnership with the City of Surrey, as the Project Delivery Agent for the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor Combo Project.

McBurney Lane Reconstruction - $400k
Reconstruct McBurney Lane between Fraser and Douglas to conform with the Public Realm Plan.

Timms Parking Underground - $2.4 million
Additional 77 underground parking stalls bringing the total of the underground stalls to 122. With 150 surface parking spots there will be 272 parking stalls in total.

Bicycle Facilities - 2015
Includes the procurement of land and construction activities associated with providing bicycle lanes, shared lanes, bicycle storage facilities.

I have to give the City of Langley credit for integrating cycling into all new road rehabilitation programs, but one of the things that the City lacks are continuous North/South and East/West cycling routes. The City has budget some money starting in 2015 for cycling, but 2015 is politically an eternity away.

I'm still amazed at how expensive "free" parking is. A full 22% of the City’s 2012 capital budget will be spent to providing 77 parking spots. That’s $30,525 per spots which is typical, but still shocking. While people may complain about being charged for parking, it makes no sense that in this day and age with tight budgets that the City provide “free” parking. To put this into context, these 77 parking spots cost more than the total budgeted spending to 2020 for all the City’s funding specifically designated to pedestrian, cycling, and transit facilities. Now I’m not against parking and we really need to reduce the amount of surface parking in the City, but before you complain about parking just remember how much it costs to provide and how much taxes you are paying for it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Langley in Progress - Part Three

Over the last little while, I’ve been posting about “Langley in Progress” which is the Township's online journal of development activity in the municipality. In December, our very own Joe Zaccaria with Eric Woodward appeared before council asking for a more frequent update of this document. Well it looks like the Township listened. Now you can get information that is updated daily directly from the Township’s internal database on their website. The website was developed in-house by Township IT staff lead by Steve Scheepmaker. This is great information and all municipalities should have this information on their websites. As I believe in open government and having information for citizens readily available, the next step for the Township should be to have PDF's of the documents associated with development linked into this system.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A video introduction to the debate on Smart Growth

For those of you that prefer the moving picture to the written word, I've put together a little video introduction and invitation about the upcoming Smart Growth debate.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Surrey’s ENERGYShift Open House

Last night I attended a panel discussion on Surrey’s ENERGYShift energy and emissions reduction plan. This plan is Provincially mandated. The City of Langley and Township of Langley have similar plans. What I’ll say about Surrey is that they have seemed to really put a lot more effort into marketing the plan than other municipalities in the South of Fraser. With some municipalities you get the feeling that they have to do the plan while in Surrey it seems like they are seeing this as an opportunity to revision the entire city as a clean energy hub for the region. Surrey wants to attract green jobs.

Last Night's Panel Discussion
I will briefly outline the thoughts of the different panel members at last night’s discussion.

Gordon Price: He talked about how Greenfield development needs to be more like East Clayton. He also said that the biggest challenge will be how Surrey deals with infill development.

Nancy Olewiler: She talked on why local government should deal with climate change and shift to clean energy sources even while the federal government drops the ball our environment. She noticed that the cost of climate change will be 3% of GDP per year while the cost of dealing with climate change is 1% of GDP. Also, the cost of using fossil-fuel energy sources will continue to go up, so it would be good to shift to something better and cheaper in the long run.

Nimal Rajapakse: He noticed that 80% of energy use in Surrey is from fossil-fuel energy. He said that we must embrace next-generation energy such as bio-fuel, wave, and geothermal. He also noticed that the green technology sector in Germany is larger than auto sector. This was in part because of help from senior government.

Penny Priddy: She talked about how 13.8% of people in Surrey have a low-income and are energy vulnerable. She also noted that people who have a low-income are the most in need of an energy-retrofits for their housing, but can’t afford to do it. She said that there is increased health costs to living in energy-inefficient housing for people who have a low-income as they are forced to not heat their home which results in illness. She said that it would be cheaper for the government to pay for energy-retrofits than the current inaction which ends up with people using the healthcare system. She also said that there isn’t enough post-secondary seats in Surrey and programs to teach people green-skills.

All the panelist seemed to agree that to actually see a big shift in energy policy like in Northern Europe, the federal government will have to play a greater role than they do today.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Somethings Never Change: Planning for Rapid Transit in the 1970's

I was browsing around the Internet last night and I stumbled upon the following picture:

Rapid Transit Project Public Meeting Ad. Click Image to Enlarge. Picture from rickie22.
I could only laugh otherwise I might have cried because it was a public consultation notice from the 1970’s asking people for input on where rapid transit should be built. What is a bit sad is that we are still having the same conversation about the same corridors some 30+ years later.

Some observations about the public consultation notice. First, it’s interesting that the picture of rapid transit is a low-floor light rail vehicle integrated into the community. This is something that our current SkyTrain system lacks. Also, it looks like there wasn’t really a plan for the current Millennium Line SkyTrain alignment and that the Evergreen Line alignment was supposed to be a priority corridor. Missing from this picture is rapid transit to UBC, but it does include an alignment down King George Boulevard. Seeing that rapid transit to the depths of Surrey has been on the books since before my birth, I can only hope that the next rapid transit project will be in the South of Fraser once the Evergreen Line is built.