Monday, December 17, 2012

City of Langley Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy

The City of Langley recently commissioned Colliers International to develop a brownfield redevelopment strategy to support the City’s Downtown Master Plan. The brownfield strategy focuses on land outlined in red on the following map which includes some land in the mixed-use Downtown zone.

Red Outline = Opportunity for Redevelopment. Black Outline = Downtown Langley. Click map to enlarge.

The City of Langley owes much of its industrial land-use to the relocation of the rail line to its current alignment and the construction of the Langley Bypass. BC Hydro led the industrialization of the City of Langley starting in the 1960’s though that land base has been slowly eroded by strip mall development along the Langley Bypass since the 1980’s. While lower paying retail trade is now the number one job type in the City, higher paying manufacturing jobs are still the number two job type in the City. The strategy notes this and that the City should be aware of this as it redevelops.

Brownfield sites are abandoned, vacant, derelict or underutilized land. In the City of Langley, this is the only type of development opportunity currently available. Unlike greenfield sites, brownfield sites may carry a higher-risk and higher-development cost. Colliers identified a number of challenges which may prevent the redevelopment of brownfield sites in the City. One of the major barriers to brownfield site redevelopment is the risk of site contamination, and the cost and delay associated with site cleanup. Another barrier is if the land is still being used; it may not make financial sense for the industrial business to relocate. In order to offset the cost of cleanup and/or relocation, a higher-value land use like high density residential must be allowed or site cleanup won’t make financial sense. While not highlighted in the Colliers strategy, aging municipal infrastructure is also a barrier to redevelopment as water, sewer, and power may need to be upgraded or replaced which is another cost that the developer must front.

Colliers suggests the following tools that the City could use to help be a catalyst for redevelopment:

-Establish a City-owned municipal development corporation (Surrey has one.)
-Perform a blanked contamination risk assessment.
-Perform a detail inventory of potential redevelopment sites which would be monitored and inventory updated.
-Provide tax exemption in the form of a time-limited reduction of property tax or waiving of development fees.
-Prioritize brownfield redevelopment in the planning process.
-Promote interim uses like pocket parks, public art, etc.
-Update zoning to allow for higher-value land-uses. (One of the barrier to higher-density use in the City is unstable deep soil conditions which makes very high density development more expensive than in other areas.)

One of the things that concerns me about the strategy is that it seems to suggest that Langley City look at converting its brownfield sites to auto-oriented office parks. This would be a big mistake considering the sites are within walking distance of Fraser Highway which is a high-frequency transit corridor and will likely support rapid transit in the near future.

The final pages of the strategy outlines some of the threats to redevelopment opportunity in Langley City which includes the increased focus of the development community on SkyTrain station areas, other transit improvement like the Evergreen Line, and the Port Mann Bridge toll.

It would seem that getting rapid transit to Langley City needs to be a priority to promote redevelopment.

The brownfield redevelopment strategy will be presented at tonight's council meeting, and will be posted to the City’s website shortly. City staff will then start developing actionable items from the strategy.

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