Monday, October 18, 2021

Why does Langley City look the way it does? Why was that project approved? Is there a plan?

It may seem that city plans, public projects such as road construction, and private development happen uncoordinated and haphazardly. This is not the case. A series of interconnected policies at the provincial, regional, and local levels guide Langley City Council and staff's actions. I explain more in this video.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Willowbrook Shopping Centre – A Tale of Two Cities

Willowbrook Shopping Centre

One of the quirky things from an urban planning perspective in Langley is the Willowbrook Shopping Centre, which is about three-quarters in the Township of Langley and one-quarter in Langley City. Last weekend, I was looking at the renovation plan for the north side of the mall, which reminded me of this fact. The following map shows the municipal border within the mall.

Site plan of Willowbrook Shopping Centre, including pedestrian circulation and municipal border. Select image to enlarge.

Half of some shops are in the Township and half in the City, including The Bay. It would be interesting if there were “Welcome to Langley City” signs within the mall itself.

What I find interesting is the design of the parking lot. There is no protected pedestrian walking area in the parking lot in the Township while there is in the parking lot within Langley City. It shows one of the subtle but important differences in development guidelines between the Township and the City.

With Langley City’s new proposed Official Community Plan, creating safe pedestrian spaces in parking lots will be further enhanced. As per the proposed Official Community Plan, “clearly defined and well lit pedestrian connections shall be provided between site functions (buildings, parking, loading, pedestrian spaces) and to connection points outside the site (e.g. sidewalks and bus stops).”

For surface parking lots, they “should be broken up into smaller parking areas with dedicated pedestrian pathways buffered by significant landscaping for the safe movement of pedestrians to and from on-site destinations and public sidewalks. A minimum of one tree is required for every six parking spaces.”

While the new Official Community Plan places greater emphasis on walking, cycling, and transit than in the past, Langely City has a history of creating safer pedestrian spaces.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

October 4 Council Notes: Virtual Meetings and New Bylaw Violation Ticket Process

One of the many things that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that you don’t need to meet in person to have a productive council or committee meeting. The province gave local governments the ability to hold “electronic meetings,” for example, via Zoom, permanently. Local governments do need to update their Council Procedure Bylaw to unlock this feature.

I like meeting remotely in most cases. You don’t need to go to a council chamber for most things. Meeting in real life is required for workshops and planning sessions when you need to brainstorm and vision with others.

For members of the public, more people can attend public hearings and other council meetings. For example, people don’t need to find childcare to participate in a long council meeting. We asked members of the Advisory Design Panel if they wanted their committee meetings held in-person or virtually. 100% of the committee wanted to continue meeting virtually.

Given the strong support for virtual meetings, Council gave first, second, and third reading to an amended Council Procedure Bylaw, which will allow meetings to be held entirely virtually, hybrid in-person and virtually, or fully in person. The amended bylaw also contains other housekeeping items.

Council also gave first, second, and third reading to a series of bylaws that enable a new adjudication process for people who violate City bylaws. The new process will allow people to dispute a bylaw violation notice up to 14 days after being issued a violation notice. The process ends with an independent adjudicator. Today, people would have to go through a complex process that culminates in the court system. The City will maintain the “Municipal Ticket Information” process for serious bylaw violations and use the new adjudication process for matters like parking tickets.

Langley City Council gave final reading to the amended Watercourse Protection Bylaw to adjust the allowable pH levels for water discharged into a watercourse to aligned with the Metro Vancouver Regional District drinking water standard of 6.5 to 9.0.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

New Design Criteria Manual: More Street Trees, Adapting to Climate Change, and Safer Streets

Last Monday, Council gave third reading to a proposed new Subdivision and Development Bylaw. As part of updating the bylaw, City Staff also updated the Design Criteria Manual for our community.

The bylaw set the base requirements for all civil works on public and private lands in Langley City, including lot grading, roads, waterworks, rainwater management, sewer, street lighting, traffic control, landscaping, and street trees.

With climate change occurring, communities must adapt.

Langley City’s proposed new Subdivision and Development Bylaw and Design Criteria Manual address the realities of climate change. The new design guide improves walking and cycling design standards. The new design guide also requires improved on-site rainwater management, focusing on letting rainwater recharge underground aquifers. Some of the new requirements include permeable paving material on private property.

To treat water runoff from roadways, the City will require bioswales, especially in the southern sections of Langley City.

An example of a bioswale. This one is in Brydon Park. Select image to enlarge.

The City will require all rainwater management systems to handle 100-year storm events. This requirement is one of the strictest in Metro Vancouver.

The City will also require street trees everywhere, and staff have updated the City’s standard road cross-sections to reflect this. Street trees will play a critical role in combating the heat island effect by increasing the tree canopy.

A typical road cross-section that includes street trees. Select image to enlarge.

I posted about the Subdivision and Development Bylaw in the summer when Council gave first and second reading to it. After first and second readings, staff sought public feedback on the proposed bylaw and manual. City staff received 16 suggested changes to the bylaw and design manual, and moved forward with 12 suggested changes.

Council also gave first, second, and third reading to amend the Highway and Traffic Regulation, Municipal Ticket Information System, and Fees and Charges bylaws to incorporate changes resulting from the new Subdivision and Development Bylaw.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Development Matters: Apartment Project and Industrial Project

Beyond the 13-unit townhouse project which I posted about yesterday, Langely City Council also gave first and second reading to a suite of bylaws that would enable:

A 2-building, 5,561 m2 (59,858 sq. ft) industrial-office development at the corner of 56th Avenue and 200th Street.

Rendering of proposed project at 19959, 19971, & 19985 56 Avenue; 5643 & 5647 200 Street.

A 6-storey, 113-unit apartment building at the corner of Michaud Crescent and 200th Street.

Rendering of proposed project at 5370 & 5380 200 Street; 5371 & 5381 200A Street; 20010 & 20020 Michaud Crescent; 20031 53B Avenue.

One of the highlights for the industrial-office development is that the project will retain the two large trees along 200th Street. Given the importance of retaining large trees whenever possible, which Langley City residents support, I was pleased to see this.

For the apartment project, the proponent is considering using synthetic turf (plastic grass) as part of the landscaping. This fake grass caused great concern for Langley City’s Advisory Design Panel, consisting of residents, architects, and landscape architects. Beyond introducing more plastic into our environment, plastic grass also contributes to the heat island effect. Council was also not impressed, based on the feedback I heard during first and second reading of the rezoning bylaw for the project.

The next step for these projects will be a public hearing. I will post more about these two projects after the public hearing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Council gives third reading to bylaws to enable 13-unit townhouse project at 53rd and 198th

On Monday, Langley City Council gave third reading to a suite of bylaws that would enable the development of a 13-unit townhouse project on the northeast corner of 53rd Avenue and 198th Street. This proposal has solicited a significant amount of feedback from residents in the adjacent duplex area east of the project and the single-family housing area south of 53rd Avenue.

Rendering of the proposed project at 5324-5326 & 5334-5336 198 Street. Select image to enlarge.

As I posted previously, the concerns from current residents include density, shadowing on adjacent properties, green space, the urban heat island effect, on-street parking, tandem parking garages, and safety at the intersection of 198th Street and 53rd Avenue.

Council had a robust discussion about whether or not to grant third reading to the rezoning bylaw. It was a difficult choice to support giving third reading to the rezoning bylaw as I have a friend who lives in the duplex area, so I have detailed knowledge of that neighbourhood’s concerns. The project’s proponent addressed some of the concerns brought up by residents, but not all.

One of the primary concerns of residents adjacent to the property is shadowing. The project’s proponent shifted the townhouses to the west to reduce shadowing, but shadowing will still occur sometimes.

The other primary concern was increased density. A similar townhouse project is on the southwest corner of 201A Street and 53rd Avenue, adjacent to single-family houses. I asked staff if the density of that project was higher. City staff told me the density was higher. These townhouses have existed for at least 20 years. While I’ve heard from residents in the area about speeding and crosswalk enhancement, I’ve never heard a complaint about these townhouses.

In our region, the number one issue is affordable housing. We talk a lot about building “missing middle” townhouses at the regional level and in our City’s proposed new Official Community Plan. I recently purchased a townhouse off 198th Street and 55A Avenue. It has three bedrooms with tandem parking and cost me $725,000. I plan on moving in this fall once it has its occupancy permit. Units with double-wide garages were going for over $890,000 at the time as they take up more space. These prices are higher today. With these double-wide garage townhouses now pushing closing to $1 million today, I question if they are affordable.

One of the other major concerns was tandem parking. I asked City staff if there was enough on-street parking today to accommodate a worse-case of 13 vehicles parked on the street. I was told yes. I also asked if parking became a concern, would the City work with residents in the area to implement an on-street parking management plan? Again, staff told me yes.

To address residents’ concerns about intersection safety, the City will be extending the curb bulge along 53rd Avenue.

The project will include nine trees to increase green space. There were five trees on the site previously. The project also includes front yards on 198th Street that are setback around 12 meters from the sidewalk. The City will also be planting street trees about every 9 meters around the project. There are zero street trees today. These trees will also help reduce the heat island effect.

While it is a controversial project, I believe it will improve the quality of life for people in Langley City and help address the missing-middle housing crisis in our region.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Langley City Council considering $423,000 in property tax exemptions for non-profits and churches

Under provincial law, cities cannot levy property tax for the land under a church building. Cities can also exclude other lands from property tax that are owned by or used by churches, charitable, philanthropic or other not-for-profits.

As a matter of policy, Langley City Council also extends property tax exemptions to include all church-used properties, including parking lots, and to organziations on City-owned lands, such as the Langley Community Music School.

Property tax exemptions are not a free lunch. Each exemption granted results in an increase in taxes for people and organizations that do pay property tax. With no clear policies on why some non-profit deserves an exemption compared to others and realizing that these exemptions impact other property taxpayers, Council has not granted further exemptions since 2010. We receive applications for new property tax exemptions every year.

This “holding the line” changed last night. The majority of City Council felt that Langley Food Bank should receive a property tax exemption because of their good work. While I also believe they do good work, I voted against this initially for the previously mentioned reasons. Given that we cannot pick favourites from the non-profits that apply for permissive tax exemptions, I made the case that we should grant property tax exemptions to all the great non-profits that applied this year. The rest of Council agreed.

As such, all of Council supported extending the in-place property tax exemption for another year as listed:

Langley Seniors Resource Society - 20605 51B Ave: $34,412
Langley Stepping Stones - 20101 Michaud: $8,268
Langley Community Music School - 4899 207 St: $24,968
Langley Lawn Bowling (Outdoor) - 20471 54 Ave: $24,960
Langley Community Services Society - 5339 207 St: $9,568
Council of the Salvation Army - 5787 Langley Bypass: $2,470
Roman Catholic - 20676 Fraser Hwy: $63,795
Anglican Parish of St Andrew's - 20955 Old Yale Rd: $17,170
Vineyard Christian Fellowship - 5708 Glover Rd: $36,913
Vcr Global Mission Church - 5673 200 St: $16,900
Evangelical Free - 20719 48 Ave: $19,753
Church of the Nazarene - 19991 49 Ave: $15,443
Bridge Community Church - 5521 Brydon Cres: $12,171
New Apostolic Church - 19999 53 Ave: $4,279
Global School Society - 19785 55A Ave: $12,056
Langley Care Society - 5451 204 St: $29,777
Langley Hospice Society - 20660 48 Ave: $3,886
Inclusion Langley Society - 208-20239 Michaud Cr: $893
Inclusion Langley Society - 210-20239 Michaud Cr: $946
Inclusion Langley Society - 19977 45A Ave: $2,202
Inclusion Langley Society - 4570 209A St: $2,389
Inclusion Langley Society - 4830 196 St: $2,314
Inclusion Langley Society - 210-5650 201A St: $671
Inclusion Langley Society - 218-5650 201A St: $855
Inclusion Langley Society - 312-5650 201A St: $1,039

All of Council also supported new property tax exemptions for one year as listed:

Langley Memorial Hospital Auxiliary - 20560 Fraser Hwy: $42,620
Inclusion Langley Society - 20689 Fraser Hwy (Ground Floor): $8,914
Langley Food Bank - 5768 203 St: $12,357
Encompass Support Services Society 20616 - Eastleigh Crescent: $11,319

These exemptions have a total impact of around 1.5% on City property tax revenue. Council gave the updated property tax exemptions bylaw first, second, and third reading last night.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Langley City redevelopment supports school sites in Township

Langley City shares a school district and school board with the Township of Langley. One tool available for school districts to acquire new property for new schools is the School Site Acquisition Charge. The school board levies this Charge on every new residential development.

On the surface, the School Site Acquisition Charge makes a lot of sense. As municipalities approve new residential neighbourhoods, the school board can acquire new land for schools. This Charge makes sense in communities sprawling out, not in communities like Langley City, which are fully built out and have been for over 30 years.

School boards cannot use the School Site Acquisition Charge to expand existing schools.

Langley City has an ongoing issue with the School Site Acquisition Charge because the provincial government requires that it be applied school district-wide.

The School Site Acquisition Charge must be approved by municipal councils, but if a council rejects the Charge, it goes through a dispute resolution process that ultimately ends with the provincial government making a discussion about the Charge.

Langley City rejected the Charge in 2013 because it only supported Township students and schools, but still applied to new residential developments in the City. The provincial government ruled in favour of the school board.

The school board is updating the School Site Acquisition Charge as follows:

Low Density - Per Single-Family House: $1,000
Medium Low Density (21-50 units/ha) - Per Townhouse: $900
Medium Density (51-125 units/ha) - Per Apartment Unit: $800
Medium High Density (126-200 units/ha) - Per Apartment Unit: $700
High Density (>200 units/ha) - Per Apartment Unit: $600

The school board will collect this Charge in Langley City to support school sites in Willoughby and Brookswood/Fernridge.

Langley City Council approved this Charge last Monday because history shows that the province would likely favour the school board in a dispute resolution process.

I understand the value of a School Site Acquisition Charge, but it does encourage sprawl. A better approach would be a School Acquisition Charge, which would help pay for new schools or expanding existing schools due to residential development. This change would encourage the redevelopment of older schools and discourage sprawl.

As a note, the school board predicts that 5,164 additional students will enroll in Township schools over the next decade. The school board expects 490 additional students in the City over the next decade.

According to the school board, “due to the lower planned development numbers for the City of Langley, the students will need to be accommodated in existing buildings with possible additions to some schools to accommodate the growth.”