Thursday, May 23, 2024

Final May 13 Council Meeting Updates

Over the last week or so, I've posted about Langley City's May 13 Council meeting, including updates on our finances, improvement project changes, housing matters, childcare, and road and water construction projects. Today, I'll be finishing my coverage of that meeting.

Council received a presentation from Langley City resident Bruce Downing. He expressed concerns and some potential solutions to addressing urban wildfires in the Nicomekl Floodplain and general considerations about responding to and addressing the aftermath of disasters. Council passed a motion to have staff review Mr. Downing's recommendation and prepare a response. He also called on Council to design "Langley City" ball caps.

As a note, anyone can make a presentation before Council, but you must book time. You can find out how in the "Delegations and Community Spotlights" section of Langley City's website.

Council gave third reading to updating our public notice bylaw, which outlines how we provide notice for non-legislatively required notices. This update is a housekeeping matter; you can read more about it in a previous post.

Council also gave final reading to our tax rate bylaw, which implements the tax rate from our approved 2024 budget. You can also read more about this in a previous post.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Langley City isn't Banning Childcare in Our Whole Downtown. Langley City Expanding Where You Can Create Childcare Centres.

Yesterday morning was a rought start for me. I woke up to a headline from a local news outlet claiming, "Langley City council looks set to ban additional daycares in its downtown." Social media was full of hot takes about this headline, mostly from folks who don't live in Langley City. Global News, CKNW, and CTV also called up. The problem with this is that Langley City is not proposing to ban additional daycares in our downtown area. I spent most of my day setting the record straight.

We are proposing to put a moratorium on new daycares in a small two-block area of our Downtown, known locally as the Fraser Highway One-Way Area. I'll get into the reasons for that later. This area represents about 9.5% of our downtown area.

Langley City Council is committed to creating new childcare spaces. We are investing $4.2 million, in partnership with the provincial government, to add 74 new childcare spaces in our Douglas Park Recreation Centre, about 100 metres from the Fraser Highway One-Way.

Langley City completed a Langley City Child Care Action Plan, outlining the need for child space in three categories: under 36 months, 30 months to school age, and school age. While there is a massive need for childcare across the spectrum, school-age child care (before and after-school care) is severely limited in Langley City.

The following map shows current childcare facilities in our community. Currently, Langley City allows childcare by right in most commercial areas, on school sites, and in recreation centres. Langley City also allows home-based childcare (up to eight childern) in detached homes by right. Over the years, Langley City Council has also rezoned additional sites for childcare centres.

Map of Langley City with childcare locations. Select the map to enlarge.

Given the need for more childcare spaces, especially for school-aged children, Langley City will introduce a new zoning bylaw, scheduled for July, that will allow childcare facilities in all residential and commercial areas of our community. If you want to build a childcare centre, Langley City will not get in the way.

Now, back to the Fraser Highway One-Way area. This area is about 1/3rd the size of the Willowbrook Shopping Centre site. It is the heart of our community and has been our retail main street/high street for over 100 years. The following map shows our downtown area in purple and blue. We are considering putting the moratorium in the blue area.

Map of Downtown Langley with childcare locations. Select the map to enlarge.

If you ask people what they love about Langley City, they will say our walkability and the Fraser Highway One-Way area. Like any shopping area, it thrives because of its diverse shops and services. Active spaces like restaurants, cafes, clothing stores, bookshops, and unique retailers draw locals and out-of-towners to a shopping area, helping all businesses thrive.

Too many service businesses, such as doctors' offices, dental offices, and even daycares, can and do kill a shopping area. All these services are good when spread out and exist in the Fraser Highway One-Way area today.

About every 100 metres (a 1-minute walk), there is a childcare centre in this Fraser Highway One-Way area. There are four centres in this area, with a proposed fifth. This concentration of daycares impacts the diversity of shops and services in this small two-block by 1.5-block area, creating dead zones and impacting other small business owners as daycares drive down foot traffic, a key metric for retail businesses.

Langley City is investing in childcare. We are building childcare facilities in our recreation centres and expanding where people can build childcare centres in our community. At the same time, we are considering putting a moratorium within a small 9.5% area of our Downtown to ensure the continued success of entrepreneurs and small business owners in our cherished Fraser Highway One-Way retail area.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

May 13 Council Notes: Apartment and Townhouse Projects

Last Monday, Langley City Council reviewed several development applications.

The first application was for a proposed 26-unit townhouse complex at the northeast corner of 208th Street and 50A Avenue. The proposed project includes one two-bedroom unit, 23 three-bedroom units, and two five-bedroom units. The project follows the City's Townhome & Plex-Home Best Practices Guide. The City developed this guide based on residents' feedback in our traditional detached housing neighbourhoods.

Rendering of proposed townhouse project at 5030-5064 208 Street & 20845 50A Avenue. Select the image to enlarge.

For example, all of the proposed units include double-wide garages. The project also includes five on-site visitor parking spots. The units are setback and step down in height off 50A Avenue and do not include balconies that can look into neighbouring properties. As part of this project, they will provide a new public pathway to Nicholas Park off 50A Avenue. The large trees on the corner will also be retained.

Council gave first and second reading for this proposed townhouse project.

Rendering of proposed apartment project at 20719-20731 Eastleigh Crescent. Select the image to enlarge.

Council also gave first and second reading for a 5-storey, 132-unit apartment building at the corner of Eastleigh Crescent/56th Avenue/208th Street. The building will have 115 one-bedroom units and 17 two-bedroom units ranging from 440 sq. ft. to 740 sq. ft. As there are several active projects in the area, Council asked for details on where tradespeople will be parking throughout the project's entire lifecycle. The applicant committed to getting this information to Council before third reading. Of note, the parklette on the east corner of Eastleigh and 56th will be getting renewed. The parklette will remain public property.

Council gave third reading to rezone the property at 20256 - 20272 54A Avenue to accommodate a 6-storey, 114-unit apartment project. You can read more about this in a previous post. Third reading acts as an "approval in principle", allowing the project applicant to finalize the details and requirements of their project before Council signs off with a final reading.

Council gave final reading to rezone and issued a development permit for a 6-storey, 96-unit apartment project at 19701-19729 55A Avenue. You can read more about this in a previous post.

Council also gave final reading to rezone, secure rental units through a housing agreement, and issued a development permit for a 6-storey, 75-unit apartment project at 20214 & 20224 54A Avenue. You can read more about this in a previous post.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Updating Langley City's Financial Plans and Improvement Projects

Yesterday, I posted about Langley City's 2023 audit financial statement and that we received a clean bill of financial health. Today, I am highlighting amendments to our 2023-27 Financial Plan and 2024-28 Financial Plan.

As part of basic housekeeping, once we've received our 2023 audit financials, we need to update the 2023-27 Financial Plan and Capital Projects and Improvements Plan to reflect those financial results. Council gave first, second, and third reads to approve this update in principle.

As we move through the year, the City and Council's priorities for improvements and projects change. We can also receive funding for projects from the federal government, the province, TransLink, ICBC, and others. These changes mean that Council must approve amendments to the plan throughout the year. On Monday, Langley City Council gave the first, second, and third readings to approve the following changes in principle.

  • Langley Bypass Roadway and Cycling Improvements - Received additional funding from TransLink.
  • 200 St Culvert Upgrade at Brydon Crescent - Received additional funding from TransLink.
  • Major Road Network Rehabilitation - Received additional funding from TransLink.
  • SkyTrain Multi-Use Path - Received $4 million from the province to create a walking/bike path along the entire SkyTrain route in Langley City.
  • Building a Safer Langley - Received additional funds from the federal government.
  • Local Government Climate Action Program - Received additional funds from the province.
  • Road Rehabilitation - Received additional funds from the federal government.
  • Demolition of Buildings Adjacent to City Hall / Timms Centre - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Fire Hall Exterior Building Envelope Repair - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Fire Ladder Truck Replacement - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Fire Department Thermal Image Camera - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • City Park Baseball Diamonds Upgrade - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Miscellaneous Property Purchase - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • 208 Street Water Service Repair - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Sewer and Drainage Replacements - Reallocated funds from City reserves
  • Water and Sewer Hydraulic Modelling Software - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Township of Langley Imposed RCMP De-integration Study - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • RCMP City Detachment - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • City-Wide Parking Study - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Douglas Crescent & 203 St Intersection Safety Improvements - Reallocated funds from City reserves.
  • Fraser Highway, 201A St to 203 St Water Main Replacement - Reduced Budget
  • 46 Ave, 196 St to 200 St Repaving - Deferred project to free up funding
  • Mayor Roads, Left Turn Lanes - Deferred project to free up funding
  • Fire Hall HVAC Renewal - Deferred project to free up funding
  • Park Equipment – Chipper & Trailer - Deferred project to free up funding
  • Rail Notification System - Deferred project to free up funding

You can view the entire document of changes on Langley City's website.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Langley City's 2023 Consolidated Financial Statements Pass Audit

Langley City must have its financials audited annually. The audit forms part of the City's Annual Report, which Council releases in the summer. Langley City's independent auditor, Kristine Simpson, from BDO Vancouver, gave our 2023 Consolidated Financial Statements a clean bill of health.

In 2023, Langley City had about $59.4 million in expenses. Due to increased usage, the City had a small $212,372 operating deficit for water service. This deficit was caused by the timing of the Metro Vancouver Regional District's billing cycle compared to the City's water billing cycle. This deficit will be corrected when people pay their 2024 water utility charges.

Other departments had an overall surplus. Any surplus is put into reserve accounts to help fund capital projects, such as repaving roads or enhancing parks. The City transferred $3.9 million in operating surplus to reserve accounts in 2023. The biggest driver for the 2023 surplus was about $762,000 in unneed debt service charges, as we are still working through the $15 million loan authorization process. The debt service charge is baked into our tax rate. RCMP detachment operations were also under budget, creating a $567,00 surplus.

The remaining surplus is primarily due to underspending on staffing. This surplus is due to temporary staff vacancies, unused overtime allocations, new positions hired part-way through the year, and unfilled positions.

The City's goal is to have a balanced budget, but we cannot have a structural deficit under BC law. This requirement means that the City must budget conservatively, which generally means we will have a small surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

This year, we had a larger surplus for reasons I previously noted. One of Council's action items is to ensure that we have a plan for filling these positions. Council also asked staff to develop a budget surplus policy to formalize what we do with budget surpluses. City staff will present this policy to the Council for consideration this summer.

For more information, please read the City's report on the 2023 Consolidated Financial Statements.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Fraser Highway Road Renewal and Water Main Replacement Project Approved (Between 201A and 203)

Last night, Langley City Council issued a tender for replacing the water mains under Fraser Highway Between 201A Street and 203rd Street and repaving the road. This total project is $2.8 million. Richco Contracting Ltd. is the contractor for the project for a cost of $2.1 million. ISL Engineering and Land Services Ltd. is the contract administrator for $71,160.00. The contract administrator ensures that the contractor stays on course and on time. The remaining project cost is reserved for contingency and will be returned to the City's reserves if those funds are not needed.

There are many active road projects in and around our Downtown area. As you have seen in our last two budgets, Langley City Council is committed to working on the basics: water, sewer, and roads. You are seeing the results of these Council decisions in action. Construction is disruptive, but the results will be better roads and the continued safe delivery of water and sewer services.

City staff and Council know that SkyTrain construction will start soon. We've priority work in our Downtown area, west of 204th Street, to ensure we are not conflicting with the major construction of SkyTrain through our community.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Who Took My Property Tax in 2023

Langley City Council is reviewing our 2023 Consolidated Financial Statements at tonight's public meeting. One of the questions I frequently get is why the tax bill is higher than what I talk about when Council reviews and ultimately approves a budget and property tax rate.

The primary reason is that only about 58% of property tax collected is controlled by and goes to Langley City. The rest goes to other governments and organizations that set their property tax rate.

The following interactive chart shows who got what slice of property tax in 2023.

There are a few caveats. First, the Downtown Langley Merchants tax is only charged to commercial properties in our Downtown. Also, the Municipal Finance Authority collects about $4,000 in property tax, which is too small to show on the chart.

Finally, most property tax bills include water, sewer, and garbage fees. These aren't property taxes. In 2023, Langley City collected $17.8 million in fees.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Deadline: Book Your Booth for Langley City’s Community Day

People browsing Community Day booths

Langley City’s Community Day is just around the corner on June 8th. This is a fun-filled, family-friendly event with a dedicated kids’ activity zones, face painters and balloon twisters, food trucks, an artisan craft marketplace, a beer garden, and live musical entertainment.

Community Day was founded to help people connect with local non-profits in Langley. It gives people a great opportunity to learn about the good work going on, learn about resources they may use, and inspire people to donate their time and money to help further the good work in Langley.

The Community Booths are still a very important part of this festival. If you are a non-profit and want a free booth, Langley City is now accepting applications. Please complete the Booth Application Form and submit it to Langley City before May 24th. If you are a business and would like to sponsor Community Day, fill out a Booth Application Form by the deadline, too. The City will send you a sponsorship package.

Community Day is one of my favourite events, and I look forward to it being better than ever this year!

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Proposed Metro Vancouver Changes to Protect Rural Lands and Combat Climate Change Impacts

Metro Vancouver is a compact region with growth concentrated within our urban growth boundary. This boundary helps preserve rural lands (which local governments control) and acknowledges the agricultural land reserve (which is managed by the provincial government.)

All member municipalities in Metro Vancouver agree to be bonded by the Metro 2050 Regional Growth Strategy. We have a solid Regional Growth Strategy, but there is always an opportunity to improve it, including when it comes to taking action to reduce climate change impacts in our region.

Metro Vancouver Regional Land-Use Map. Rural Areas in Light Green. Select the Map to Enlarge.

While the current Regional Growth Strategy does say that municipalities should protect rural land from urban development and not consider it urban land in waiting, the only actual definition of what the rural land use designation supports is around sewer servicing. The Regional District is looking to define rural land use further, as the current lack of a definition creates some ambiguity. Why is this important? Protecting rural land is an easy way to preserve our green space and prevent urban sprawl, which helps combat the impacts of climate change.

The Regional District is also looking to set policies that protect and enhance ecosystems within rural areas, as over 70% of the loss of sensitive and modified ecosystems in the last decade occurred outside the urban growth boundary.

The Regional District is also looking to enhance other climate-change-related policies in our Regional Growth Strategy, including encouraging making streets more biking- and walking-friendly.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Langley City Council's Provincial Calls to Action Supported by Other Lower Mainland Local Governments

Langley City is part of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA), which covers the Fraser Canyon from Boston Bar, the Fraser Valley, Metro Vancouver, and the Sea to Sky corridor to around Pemberton. Local governments in this area represent about two-thirds of BC's population. The LMLGA is one of five local area associations in BC.

Building Inclusive Spaces in Langley City Presentation at this year's LMLGA Conference. Select the image to enlarge.

Besides providing education and advocacy, the LMLGA annual conference is where locally elected representatives debate resolutions from various local governments in the area and, if supported by the majority of those at the resolutions session, are submitted to the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) for debate at their annual conference for all local governments in our province. The resolutions supported by the UBCM membership are submitted to the province as "the will of local governments" in BC. The UBCM advocates for these resolutions to the province in the hopes that the provincial government will take action on some of the resolution recommendations. The province always responds to supported resolutions, even if the response is that they will take no action.

Langley City Council just returned from last week's LMLGA annual conference. At the conference, attendees debated 60 resolutions, of which four were submitted by Langley City Council. I'm happy to report that the LMLGA membership supported all four Langley City Council resolutions and that the LMLGA will forward these resolutions to the UBCM for debate in the fall annual conference.

The first resolution from Langley City Council calls on the provincial government to reimburse local governments when firefighters respond to medical calls due to the chronic underfunding of the Ambulance Service in BC.

The second resolution calls on the provincial government to expand its "HEART & HEARTH" homelessness reduction programs from "priority" communities to all communities in BC. These programs include building new permanent and temporary shelter spaces and providing required associated program support for people experiencing homelessness.

The third resolution asks the province to take action on its Courthouse Capital Asset Management Plan, including building new courthouses in areas with limited court access, such as Langley, which has no courthouses, and expanding existing courthouses.

Langley City Council's final supported resolution asks the provincial government to provide more financial and staff support to help local governments implement the province's new housing legislation, regulations, and policies.

For more information, you can download the complete resolution package from the LMLGA website.

Monday, May 6, 2024

April 29 Council Notes: Film Festival, Ottawa Mission Debrief, and Housekeeping Matters

Over the last week, I’ve posted about some of the items discussed at last Monday’s Langley City Council meeting. Today, I’ll cover the remaining items.

Langley City held its first-ever local film festival last year. The City’s Arts, Recreation, Culture & Heritage Advisory Committee is starting the work on planning for the 2025 film festival. While the Committee is looking for sponsorship for the festival, it asked Council to reserve $15,000 from the City’s Public Arts Fund. The City will use any sponsorship money to reduce the need to use the Public Arts Fund. Council approved this request.

As I posted, Langley City Council recently completed an advocacy mission to Ottawa. I presented a report on the mission at the Council meeting, including these next steps:

  • Setting up further meetings with MP Paul Chiang’s, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, office to connect with Langley immigration and settlement services agencies to discuss the need for more built and social infrastructure.
  • Forwarding the Provincial Nominee Program Immigration feedback from MP Tom Kmiec to MLA Andrew Mercier.
  • Following up with CMHC to obtain a formal explanation of why we were not successful with our initial Housing Accessorator Funding application.
  • Learning more about the new Canada Housing Infrastructure Fund and how Langley City can apply for funding.
  • Setting up a meeting with MP Harjit Sajjan to explore PacifiCan funding for our proposed Performing Arts and Cultural Centre.
  • Restarting meetings with Transport Canada to change the height limited regulation in Langley City, which currently limits building height to 12 storeys due to the Langley Regional Airport.

Langley City Council also approved Anton Metalnikov, Planner, to attend the Canadian Institute of Planners national conference in Edmonton from July 9th to 11th.

Council gave first, second, and third reading to approve-in-principle a housing-keeping item to remove non-legislatively required public notices from our public notice bylaw.

Council also gave final reading and approved updates to the Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw and Parks and Public Facilities Regulation Bylaw, which I posted about previously.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Development Matters: Proposed Apartment on 54A Avenue. Securing Rental Units.

On Monday, Langley City gave first and second reading to rezoning 20256-20272 54A Avenue to allow a 6-storey, 114-unit apartment building. If approved, the building will have 18 studios, 69 one-bedroom units, and 27 two-bedroom units.

All development applications go through Langley City's Advisory Design Panel, which includes architects, landscape architects, and community members. The panel provides design recommendations to enhance development projects. The panel provided 18 recommendations, of which 15 the project applicant incorporated into an updated design. You can view all the recommendations from Langley City's website.

Langley City Council asked questions about traffic management and trades parking as the area has many active building construction projects. Council was assured that there would be coordination. Council reminded the applicant to be a good neighbour and provide easy-to-find contact information for people who already live in the neighbourhood.

As public hearings for residential rezoning are no longer permitted in BC, Council will consider third reading for the rezoning at an upcoming meeting.

Render of the proposed project at 20256-20272 54A Avenue. Select the image to enlarge.

You can read about this proposed project and follow its progress on Langley City's new development application portal.

Council requires that if a market rental building is redeveloped, the rental units must be replaced, one for one. To secure the replacement units for the life of a building, both the City and the applicant redeveloping a building sign a binding housing agreement. Council gave first, second, and third reading to a housing agreement bylaw for the proposed project at 20200 54A Avenue to preserve eight rental units.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Langley City $15 Million Loan Approval Process Continues. Property Tax Bylaw Approved in Principle.

Last summer, Langley City completed an Alternative Approval Process to allow the City to take out a $15 million loan to help purchase property to support SkyTrain and fund the Fraser Highway One Way renewal project. It can take more than a year for a local government to get that money in the bank.

Once it has gone through the municipal approval process, the provincial Inspector of Municipalities must approve allowing a municipality to take out a loan. Langley City received approval from the Inspector last year.

In BC, the Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia, a service of all Regional Districts in BC, provides long-term borrowing for municipalities. Munipicailites must submit their provincially approved loan request to their regional district. The regional district board must approve the request and submit it to the Municipal Finance Authority; the regional district gets the money from the Municipal Finance Authority and transfers it back to the municipality. This process is a lot, but it makes sense in the broader BC context. One thing to remember is there are a lot of small municipalities in BC. In fact, five regional districts have a lower population than Langley City! This lengthy process ironically ensures that we can pool loans more efficiently to get a better interest rate and lower borrowing costs, which means lower taxes over time.

Langley City Council approved submitting our loan request to the Metro Vancouver Regional District for the fall loan intact. If all goes well, we should receive the money in our City's bank account at the end of this year.

Regarding finances, Langley City Council approved our budget earlier this year, which included a property tax increase of 9.97%. Langley City Council must pass a bylaw annually to enable the collection of property tax for that year. Langley City Council gave the first, second, and third readings for our 2024 tax rate implementation bylaw. This bylaw sets the "mill rate" for 2024. A "mill rate" is the tax per $1,000 of property value.