Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Langley City Needs Provincial and Federal Action to Increase Housing Supply

Last year, the provincial government introduced the "Housing Supply Act," which enabled the province to set the number of new housing units that the province believes should be built in a municipality over a period of time. They rolled out the housing targets to the first batch of municipalities last year and are now rolling out targets to another 20 municipalities, including Langley City. Eventually, all municipalities in Metro Vancouver will have provincially imposed housing targets.

One of the main reasons for imposing these targets is to get some municipalities to streamline their development approval processes; I've heard horror stories about how it can take years to get a building permit in some municipalities. In Langley City, our development process is speedy and measured in months. However, I've noticed a slowdown in the number of development applications we've received lately.

When I asked some home builders why there has been a slowdown, they told me that interest rates, labour costs, and supply costs are the primary drivers for their slowdown.

I asked them about what government programs have been helpful. They pointed to the federal government's Apartment Construction Loan Program, which provides low-cost financing for rental apartment projects where at least 20% of housing units are priced to what a typical working household could afford. Continuing to make improvements and increasing funding for this program will enable more housing to be built.

BC Housing is the primary funder for traditional affordable housing projects, but it is known that they can be slow. For example, Langley City approved 981 units of seniors-focused affordable housing in 2021 for the Langley Lions Housing Society. It is now 2024, and phase one of the project has just restarted construction. The province must double down on efforts to speed up BC Housing projects.

Langley Lions Housing Society lots sit empty as it waits for phase two funding from BC Housing. Phase one is under construction in the background.

The Langley Regional Airport has out-of-date federal regulations that impose an artificial 12- to 15-storey high limit within most of Langley City, including near SkyTrain stations. We've been talking to the federal government, including going to Ottawa last week, to ask them to remove this artificial limit around our transit-oriented development areas.

Access to low-cost construction financing, slow BC Housing projects, and the Langely Airport's out-of-date high limit restrict housing construction in Langley City.

While municipalities don't build housing, Langley City will continue to do its part to ensure the speedy processing of building applications to ensure people have a place to call home. We will also continue to advocate and partner with the federal and provincial governments to reduce the barriers in our community and enable more housing to be built faster.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New Development Application Notification Process Live in Langley City

New Langley City Development Application Sign

If you've been around town lately, you'll likely have seen more Development Application signs on properties. It isn't that there has suddenly been an influx of development applications but that Langley City has updated how we let people know about development proposals.

Until recently, the City notified people about a proposed development when the application was heading to a public hearing. People would get about two weeks' notice. The public hearing was near the end of the City's development approval process.

Our new notification process, which I recently posted that Council approved, starts within 30 days of the City receiving a development proposal.

This process has now gone live.

You'll notice a few things about the new development proposal signs besides the fact that they are being posted longer.

They now have:

  • A rendering of the proposal project
  • Contact information for the City and the applicant
  • A QR code and information about accessing Langley City's Development Application Portal
  • Information about when 1st and 2nd Reading of the rezoning/development permit will occur

Langley City's Development Application Portal has information on all active development proposals. On the portal, you can find the current status of proposals, contact information, and the plans and drawings for each proposal.

Langley City Council is striving to provide more information to people in our community that is easy for them to access and understand.

As the provincial government has made public hearings for residential development proposals illegal, we also hope that people will contact City staff and development applicants with their questions, suggestions, or concerns, as this information is now readily available. I expect that folks' questions will be addressed promptly. Because we now provide notice and contact information earlier in the development process, there is a higher chance of being able to address feedback and concerns in the design. I know that Council will be monitoring this.

For transparency, many people ask for development proposals to have a lower density than proposed. If a project is consistent with the density envisioned in our City's Official Community Plan, there is a very low likelihood that the City would recommend lowering the density of a proposal.

This new process will provide more visibility around development applications in our community and allow people more opportunities to get their questions answered or provide feedback to the development applicant or City staff. It will not impact the processing time of development applications in Langley City, and because public hearings are now illegal, it may speed up the processing time by a few weeks.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Langley City Council Approves Committees' 2024 Work Plans

Langley City has around a half dozen committees and task groups. City Council sets up some of these committees and groups to allow them to dive deeper into topics and make recommendations to Council. Council can also delegate to them to perform certain activities, such as the Earth Day event.

Our committees and task groups generally have community members who volunteer their time to serve on them. Their agendas and minutes are on the City's website, and their meetings are open for anyone to attend to listen in.

Council must approve all committee and task group work plans annually. On April 8th, Langley City Council approved the following annual 2024 works plans.

Arts, Recreation, Culture and Heritage Committee

  • Facilitate a tile mural on the Rotary Centennial Park washroom building
  • Name the road into Rotary Centennial Park
  • Plan for 2025 Langley City Film Festival
  • Create a Call for Artists and select a Glover Road gateway sculpture
  • Plan and hold the 2nd Annual Music and Art in City Park
  • Install a plaque or interpretive sign in Douglas Park about James Douglas and the Black community in British Columbia

Environmental Sustainability Committee

  • Host Earth Day event
  • Provide feedback on the new Urban Forest Management Strategy and Sustainability Charter
  • Host a Repair-it CafĂ©
  • Support a Bat-Friendly Community with "Bat Week" in the fall

Socio-Cultural Economic Development Advisory Committee

  • Create an Economic Development Strategy
  • Create a Social, Cultural and Economic Development Strategic Framework
  • Update Economic Development Website for Langley City
  • Set up a communication framework to allow for the community and committee to stay updated and provide feedback on social-cultural economic work plan items

Please follow the links to each committee's work plan documents for more information.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Langley City Ottawa Mission: Day 3

We brought some of the Metro Vancouver rain over to Ottawa today.

It is our final meeting day for Langley City Council's first mission to Ottawa. We had productive meetings yesterday, including on removing the height limits around Willowbrook Mall. This old-fashioned federal regulation for the Langley Regional Airport limits transit-oriented development around SkyTrain.

Langley City's Performing Arts and Cultural Centre was well received, and we were directed to some potential funding options.

We were told to resubmit our Housing Accelerator Funding, as the federal government has unlocked more funding through its new budget.

We just met with some members of the Shadow Cabinet of the Conservative Party over a working lunch.

Later, we will talk with folks at the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship about the need for more supports and services for newcomers in Langley City.

Another productive day! We will be flying back home tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Langley City Ottawa Mission: Day 2

It's day two of Langley City Council's Ottawa Mission to advocate for our community. This morning, we meet with the Pacific Caucus to talk about housing, support for newcomers, local water, road, and sewer infrastructure funding, our proposed performing arts and cultural centre, and changes to the Langley Regional Airport.

We will have more detailed meetings with government MPs throughout the day to dig into these topics.

Being in Ottawa, I feel sad that I've forgotten all the French I learned in high school.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Langley City Ottawa Mission: Day 1

It's day one of Langley City Council's first mission to Ottawa. We are heading to meet with federal ministers and MPs of all stripes to advocate for increasing funding for affordable housing and infrastructure to support our community.

Today is a travel day, so I'll be leaving YVR shortly. Tomorrow, we will start our day with a meeting of Liberal Pacific Caucus at 8:30 am.

Monday, April 15, 2024

April 8 Council Notes: Housekeeping Updates and Travel Approval

At its last Monday meeting, Langley City Council addressed several housekeeping matters.

Council gave three readings to update our Parks and Public Facilities Bylaw to add a map showing where people can responsibly consume liquor during the summer months. There were no changes to this policy or locations, just the inclusion of maps.

Map of Acholol Allowed Areas in City Park.

Council also gave three readings to update our Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw to add fines for parking on a crosswalk, boulevard, or median. The maximum fine is $70 but drops to $35 if paid within 14 days.

Council gave final readings to adopt an updated Public Notice Bylaw and Council Procedure Bylaw, which I posted about previously.

Council approved Darrin Leite, the City's Director of Corporate Services, to attend the Government Officers Association Annual International Conference.

Council also approved our travel for our Mission to Ottawa this week to meet with federal ministers and MPs of all stripes to build relationships and advocate for getting more affordable housing built, funding to support infrastructure, getting better support for newcomers that settle in Langley City, building a performing arts centre, and updating the regulations to allow taller buildings near the Willowbrook Mall areas (which is currently height-restricted due to the Langley Regional Airport.)

Council appointed Wendy Rachwalski to our Accessibility Advisory Committee. The committee provides advice to the City for "identifying, removing and preventing barriers to individuals in, or having interactions with, the City."

Council also receive two letters seeking feedback from the Metro Vancouver Regional District about some proposed housekeeping updates to the Regional Growth Strategy and for the Electoral Area "A" Official Community Plan. Council referred these letters to City staff to draft a response.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Langley City Council Approves New Development Charges in Principle

Langley City staff have been working over the last year to update our development cost charges. Developers pay development cost charges for each new building they construct or significantly renovate, whether commercial, institutional, industrial, or residential.

Langley City last updated its development cost charges rates in 2012, so it was due for an update. The provincial government strictly regulates development cost charges; municipalities can only use these charges for infrastructure directly related to accommodating a new development project. This idea is sometimes called "growth should pay for growth."

Municipalities can broadly use development cost charges for transportation, water, sewer, facility (e.g. new rec centre), and storm sewer projects, as well as for acquiring or upgrading parkland. Any project a municipality plans to use development cost charges for must also be approved by the provincial government. Municipalities usually submit a list of projects to the province for their approval. Langley City has recently done this.

As I posted about last summer, Langley City submitted its proposed development cost charges rates to the public and development community for feedback. The one piece of significant feedback we received is that our development cost charges should be updated more frequently to avoid rate jumps. The City now plans to update its development cost charges rates more frequently. Recent provincial changes expand what municipalities can use development cost charges for, and the province now allows four units of housing per detached lot by right. As a result, the City will be doing another update to our development cost chargers later this year.

Council gave first, second, and third reading to the rate as shown in the table.

Building Type Unit of Measure DCC Rate
Detached Residential Per Lot $45,563.00
Townhouse Per Dwelling Unit $32,683.00
Apartment Per Dwelling Unit $21,246.00
Commercial Per gross floor area (in sq. ft.) $14.46
Industrial Per gross floor area (in sq. ft.) $5.81
Institutional Per gross floor area (in sq. ft.) $14.46

The City will now submit these rates to the provincial Inspector of Municipalities for approval. If approved, which the City believes will be likely, Council will adopt the new rates. The Inspector usually takes about four months to review rate changes.

Setting development cost charges is tricky because we want to ensure that we can pay for the infrastructure and facilities required for new projects while also being mindful of the total cost of building a new home or other building.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Detailed Analysis of Tree Canopy By Land Use in Langley City

I've been posting about urban forests and tree canopy cover over the past week. Langley City is in the process of creating our urban forest management plan. As part of that process, City staff and consultants completed a detailed analysis of tree canopy cover by land use type in our community. The following land use map is linked by colour to the table below. You'll want to select each of the map and the table to enlarge them as they are a bit small inline.

Langley City Land-Use Map by Colour Code

Tree Canopy Cover in Langley City by Land-Use. Grey Bars are the Total Area of Land Use Type. Green Bars are the Tree Canopy Area within the Land Use Type.

There are a few things that stood out to me. Our residential-only areas have a fair amount of tree cover, but our commercial, industrial, and downtown areas have virtually no tree canopy. While we need to preserve tree canopy in our residential-only areas, there is a significant opportunity to increase tree canopy in our downtown, Langley Bypass area, and mixed-use areas.

Based on the feedback the City received from our community last year, staff and consultants are nearing the completion of a draft urban forest management plan for Langley City. The City will present a draft of the plan for public feedback this spring to have a version for Council to consider approving this summer.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Council Approves Michaud Crescent Improvement Project

Last night, Langley City Council approved tendered contracts for the Michaud Crescent Improvement Project.

Michaud Crescent Improvement Project Area. Select the image to enlarge.

This project includes:

  • Replacing the watermain under the street
  • Upgrading drainage
  • Improving intersection safety with new curb letdowns and extensions at all cross streets along Michaud
  • Adding new streetlights
  • Adding street trees on the south side of the street
  • Improving the safety of the Michaud and 201A Street intersection by narrowing the intersection, removing the flex posts, and implementing a four-way stop
  • Improving the safety of the Michaud and 203rd Street intersection removing the traffic island and narrowing the entrance to Michaud
  • Adding an accessible bus stop on 201A Street, just north of Michaud
  • Adding safer cycling lanes on the south side of the street
  • Repaving the south half of Michaud

Overall, this project will replace aging infrastructure and improve road safety for people who are walking, rolling, cycling, and driving.

I know that the current trees on the north side of Michaud are iconic and are a source of pride for our community. During this project, none of those trees will be touched and will be protected.

Council tendered the contract for the project to Arsalan Construction Ltd. for $2,441,789 (excluding GST). The Langley Prairie (City) townsite is over 100 years old, so there are some contaminated soils under some of our roads. We learned about this during the 56th Avenue project, which resulted in an unexpected cost increase. Learning from that project, the Michaud Project includes funding, if needed, to address contaminated soils.

Council also approved tendering a contract to RF Binnie & Associates Ltd. for $155,882 to manage the project. The project includes a $140,000 contingency.

TransLink and developer fees are paying for the safe cycling part of the project.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Enhancing and Protecting the Urban Forest, Metro Vancouver’s Updated Toolkit

Bowen Island Community School - Sports Field

As I posted last week, more work needs to be done to grow the tree canopy in Metro Vancouver. The region’s goal is to have 40% tree canopy coverage in urban areas. Today, Langley City has about 21% tree canopy coverage.

Average canopy cover by various land-use in Metro Vancouver in 2020. Select the image to enlarge.

The Regional District created the Metro Vancouver Tree Regulations Toolkit in 2021. This toolkit provides information for municipalities that are developing or updating their own tree protection and urban forest management plans and requirements.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is updating the toolkit to provide more guidance to municipalities. These updates include more direction on how to manage trees in development, subdivision, and municipal serving bylaws. The updated toolkit also includes guidance on promoting urban forest management practices through development permits.

How regulatory tools can be used to preserve trees and grow tree canopy in the region – Trees in Forest Stands and Naturalized Areas. Select the image to enlarge.

How regulatory tools can be used to preserve trees and grow tree canopy in the region – Trees in urban areas. Select the image to enlarge.

The new toolkit includes checklists for local governments to consider for higher-level plans, land-use bylaws and development plans, and serving bylaws, which helps make it easier for municipalities to incorporate the updated toolkit. They also include the latest data and best practices around tree protection and urban forest management, including new regional district targets such as the 40% tree canopy coverage.

You can read the proposed updated toolkit in the Friday, April 5 agenda of the Regional Planning Committee.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Deadlines: Youth Art Exhibit Submissions Welcomed. Free 55+ “Choose To Move” Program

Art in Back Garden of Michaud House

I’d like to draw your attention to two upcoming deadlines at Langley City.

Through Langley City’s Arts, Culture & Heritage Program, we are putting out a call to young artists to display their works in the “A Step Above Gallery” on the second floor of Timms Community Centre.

The requirements are:

  • The art must be able to be hung on a wall
  • It shouldn’t exceed 3’ by 4’

If you are interested or know someone interested in displaying their work, please email or have them email Kim Hilton at khilton@langleycity.ca. Be sure to include a picture of the art piece, its name, unframed size, medium, and sales price (if interested in selling.) The deadline is April 22nd, 2024.

Langley City is also holding “Choose To Move” for people 55 and older. This program helps people get more active and connects them with others, strengthening community and making new friends. This program is more than a fitness class and includes personalized guidance. This free program runs from April 20th until June 22nd.

For more information or to sign up, please visit the City’s website page, drop by Timms Community Centre, or call 604-514-2940.

You must be able to attend an information session for “Choose To Move” on Saturday, April 6th, at 1:30 am.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Tree Crover Decreases While “Grey” Surfaces Increased in Metro Vancouver, but It Isn’t All Bad News

The Metro Vancouver Regional District recently completed a study, Tree Canopy Cover and Impervious Surface - 2020 Update.

Map showing tree canopy cover (%) by city block within the Urban Containment Boundary. Select the map to enlarge.

Unfortunately, the study found that between 2014 and 2020:

  • Tree canopy cover decreased by 1%, from 32% to 31% within the Urban Containment Boundary.
  • Impervious surface increased by 4%, from 50% to 54% within the Urban Containment Boundary.

It isn’t all bad news; some municipalities, like Langley City, White Rock, Vancouver, and Maple Ridge, increased their tree cover.

Graph of tree canopy cover within the Urban Containment Boundary for each member jurisdiction showing 2020 and 2014 levels. Select the graph to enlarge.

While Langley City does have a large amount of impervious surface, we held the line as it only grew 0.3%, hovering at 62% between 2014 and 2020.

Like other municipal Councils in Metro Vancouver, Langley City Council understands the importance of growing the tree canopy to help mitigate some of the impacts of climate change and promote a clean, healthy environment. We also understand that we must increase the surfaces where water can filter back into the ground.

Many municipalities, including Langley City, are developing urban forest management plans for these reasons. Langley City’s new Official Community Plan also promotes the creation of less impervious areas.

You can read the “2020 Regional Tree Canopy Cover and Impervious Surface” report from Metro Vancouver’s website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

We Need a New Deal for Water and Sewage Treatment Projects in Metro Vancouver

Water Pipe

Two Fridays ago, the Metro Vancouver Regional District released an update stating that the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant will cost $3.86 billion to build and be in service by 2030. The original project cost was around $700 million, and it was to be in service by 2020. Many folks have provided commentary about the challenges of this project; I wanted to focus on the overall costs of water and sewage treatment in our region.

Sewage treatment is a significant regional district service, though you wouldn't see it directly on your property tax bill. The line item for Metro Vancouver on your property tax bill mainly funds regional parks and other regional services. Water and sewer costs are embedded into the cost of new construction through development cost charges and are part of your municipal water and sewer fees.

For example, about 40% of the Development Cost Charges applied to each new apartment unit in Langley City go to the Metro Vancouver Regional District for water and sewer service, and about 50% of the water and sewer fees for Langley City also go to the Metro Vancouver Regional District.

For Metro Vancouver Regional District sewer services, our region has five sewerage areas based on wastewater treatment plants. Langley City is in the Fraser Sewerage Area, while the North Shore is in a different sewerage area. Currently, costs are not shared among sewerage areas. For today, this means that the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project costs would only impact North Shore property owners. Around 200,000 live on the North Shore, meaning these folks would have massive property tax increases to pay for the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Now, there are other significant wastewater treatment projects throughout the region with costs similar to or greater than those of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant, including those that serve Langley City.

Some of these costs are due to federal regulations, and others are due to population growth. Certainly, we need to ensure that the Metro Vancouver Regional District can deliver projects as cost-effectively as possible. We may also need to consider whether sewerage areas still make sense, but this will not solve the growing financial capacity problem with property tax and development charges.

We use development charges and property tax to pay for regional, municipal, and TransLink services and projects. We are having conversations as a region about how we need the province and feds to do more to help financially with transit. We need to have the same conversation about water and sewer because, looking at the needs, I cannot see property tax and development charges as the primary ways we fund these projects.

I am happy to see that the federal government is increasingly understanding that they must play a bigger role in funding these basic infrastructure needs.