Tuesday, March 18, 2014

School District's Site Acquisition Charge increases cost for sustainable development in Langley

As part of any development project in BC, school districts are allowed to charge developers a School Site Acquisition Charge to help pay for new school sites. These costs are passed onto the home buyer. Langley School District No. 35 currently charges between $212.00 and $354.00 per new housing unit (depending on the size and type.)

Langley’s school district —which covers both the Township and the City— is unique as some parts of the district are seeing schools shut down and sites sold off, while other parts have a shortage of schools. In response to this shortage, the School District is increasing the Site Acquisition Charge to between $443.00 and $737.00 per new housing unit; a doubling of the charge. This has raised the alarm bells at the City of Langley which has seen schools shut down over the years. Recognizing this trend, the City of Langley proposed a reduced set of fees for new development in its jurisdiction.

The City sent a letter to former mayor and current Minister of Education Peter Fassbender. He wrote back stating that the new fee structure should be applied evenly across the Langley school district. This means that whether you build a new house in Aldergrove, Brookswood, or the City, you'll pay the same fee.

The real need for new schools in is Willoughby in the Township of Langley. As this is where most new development is occurring, the majority of the funds collected for the Site Acquisition Charge will come from the area. While this seems fair, I'm concerned about the Site Acquisition Charge in general.

While some may be quick to paint this as a City vs. Township issue, for me this is really a brownfield vs. greenfield development issue. Brownfield redevelopment occurs in urban areas that have pre-existing services. This type of development is very sustainable and is good for taxpayers as it allows for more efficient use of resources. For example, a family moving into a new development in the Aldergrove's Core or in the City of Langley would be able to take advantage of existing schools and local government services.

On the other hand, greenfield development require new municipal services and new school sites. Research has found that even with developer charges, greenfield residential development negatively impacts the bottom line of local government and results in higher taxes for existing residents to pay for new services in new areas.

While brownfield development is a more sustainable form of development, the costs for a developer are higher. Existing buildings must be removed and sites may need to be remediated from any sort of pollution. Doubling the Site Acquisition Charge for brownfield development is just another way that greenfield development hides its true costs.

While Langley’ school district is shutting down schools and selling off land in some parts of our community, why should those same areas pay for new school sites? The Site Acquisition Charge should only be charged for greenfield developments. This doubling of fees will only make it that much more expensive to build a sustainable Langley that makes better use of existing resources.

More information, including the letter the Minster of Education, is in the City's latest council agenda package.


Unknown said...

Hi Nathan

Which schools have been shut down in the City of Langley? As far as I can tell, SD35 has permanently closed seven schools, all of which were in Langley Township/Aldergrove. Two schools were close and may have had catchments poke into the city.

Are these issues not discussed between the two councils and the SD prior to implementing? A letter to the minister seems odd when it's the SD imposing the charge - it should be something done after negotiations break down. I don't know what, if any, of that took place before this.

To say no schools will be developed in the city is a big assumption and depends significantly on city led planning and development. Yes, existing schools and services can be used, but only to the extent they have capacity.

We see this in Vancouver where more space is desperately needed in the downtown penninsula, while schools are 3/4s full in the suburbs. Also, schools in the city will need to be upgraded or replaced as they age, which is an even more expensive process than greenfield work.

Even if this does represent an inequity, inequities are a fact of life for governments. In fact, you could say in a broad sense the role of a government is to create and manage them. And it's not as though they run one way - the city argues they're overpaying for schools being built in the township, the township can just as well argue they're paying for transit service in the city.

Best of luck in the election,

mark h

Nathan Pachal said...

The land of the former Langley Prairie school was sold off. The reality is the fee is to buy more land for school of which there is none in the City of Langley. Also, enrollment numbers continue to go down in the City.