Trouble in Brookswood


Brookswood, a classic 1950s subdivision in the Township of Langley, has been locked for years in a dispute over the pace of development. It sits just minutes from malls and highways, but it has a deep country feel.

In late 2017, on the third try in four years, Township Council approved a plan that contemplates significant population growth in the Brookswood-Fernridge planning area. From fewer than 14,000 residents, the population is supposed to grow to 39,000 when projected development is complete. In percentage terms, Langley is growing faster than any other major municipality in Greater Vancouver, and it needs land for medium-density housing. The question here is whether the preservation of an old, sprawling suburb might be justified because of its special character.

Co-tourist Bob Smarz and I walked around part of the planning area on a recent Saturday morning. Starting at the George Preston Recreation Centre north of 42nd Avenue, we went for coffee on the main commercial strip, found a scenic pathway to 32nd Avenue, and returned to the car along semi-rural roads and residential streets.

We saw private lakes with no public access, and neighbours chatting on the big front lawns. It seems certain that some residents have been here from the start, around 1960. They clearly have reason to feel protective about their peace and quiet. There is some development, as older houses crumble and are replaced by bigger and fancier structures, but there is no densification.

(“Who’s going to want to care for these big properties?” Bob asked. We saw a woman in shorts, mid-40s, standing on a garage roof with an implement in her hand. “Immigrants,” I said. “Anyone with a work ethic.”)

Brookswood Pond, an old quarry property near the proposed new townhouse zone

The new plan covers 15 square kilometres of Langley, much of it agricultural or woodland. It replaces a 1987 version that also forecast rapid population growth, with a tilt to apartment living. The old plan appears to have limited impact, except perhaps on some of the shopping centre development. As of the adoption of the new plan, only 1 per cent of the dwellings in the area were classified as apartments, with mobile homes making up 14 per cent of the housing stock and detached homes 85 per cent.

One controversial part of the 2017 plan designates a wooded zone north of 32nd Avenue for townhouse and commercial development. Bob and I tried to walk from the existing shopping area to the future residential core, but the sidewalk simply dies away. We stepped away from busy 200th Street to a more pleasant woodland trail.

Commercial village reduced

The commercial strip on 200th Street south of 42nd Avenue, showing a slight tinge of alpine resort

sidewalk reduced

South on 200th Street, the sidewalk leading to the future medium-density residential area shrinks to a sub-minimum width, and then disappears altogether.








Abandoned property, c. 1945, awaiting redevelopment



Momentum Real Estate Group

We were unable to photograph Sunrise Lake. Access is private. This image is from the Momentum Real Estate Group. is dedicated to the growth of urban villages with housing choice, access to transit, and services concentrated in walkable village cores. The properties in Brookswood are pleasant, but housing choice is lacking. Transit coverage is partial, leaving, leaving kids and seniors stranded in some locations. The range of local services is modest.

Even so, I sympathize with the “leave us alone” attitude of residents who have succeeded to this high ground. The Township of Langley has not done well in facilitating complete communities or walkability, despite the reference to these objectives in the 2017 Brookswood plan. New townhome and apartment development on 32nd Avenue will bring more traffic, with limited benefit to the local community in terms of added services.

[This is post #39 in our Urban Villages series.]


Family incomes in Metro Vancouver

Yaletown, 2017

Statistics Canada has added new community profiles to its website based on the 2016 census. These include income measures the federal Conservative government axed from the 2011 census — possibly because open up a discussion about economic inequality.

Within Metro Vancouver, the highest median family income, in North Vancouver District, is 50 per cent higher than in Richmond, which has the lowest family and individual incomes and the biggest low-income population (“federal Low-income measure, after tax”).

I’ve pasted a few numbers below for Metro Vancouver and selected towns in the rest of B.C. Some thoughts:

  • Readers may be surprised by the high median incomes in no-prestige suburbs such as Pitt Meadow and Maple Ridge. These high median incomes are related, in my view, to the prevalence of professionals, managers and two-income public sector families (a police officer married to a nurse) in those communities.
  • Every high-income district has low-income people, reflecting (in part) the presence of seniors living on public pensions. This is especially noticeable in affluent West Vancouver, which has a high number of seniors.
  • Incomes are not related to home prices. East Vancouver has a high incidence of poverty (as shown for example in the 2014 Child Poverty Report Card) but much higher housing costs than Langley Township or Maple Ridge.
  • Incomes outside Metro Vancouver are perhaps slightly lower than in the big city, but not drastically. Terrace and Prince George, for example, have struggled for decades with forest-sector job losses, but obviously benefit from the presence of colleges, hospitals and provincial government offices.

Incomes reported in the above table are from 2015.

In its community profiles, Statistics Canada reports in almost obsessive detail on the languages spoken. My takeaway here is that while close to 30 per cent of British Columbians are immigrants, fewer than 20 per cent report that they speak a language other than English at home. There are few cases where any non-English language achieves even a 10 per cent share of languages spoken at home. These are:

Richmond: c. 35 per cent Chinese
Burnaby: c. 20 per cent Chinese
Abbotsford: c. 18 per cent Punjabi
Surrey: c. 15 per cent Punjabi
City of Vancouver: c. 15 per cent Chinese
Coquitlam: c. 13 per cent Chinese
West Van District: c. 10 per cent Chinese

At Richmond Centre, 2013

Riding Vancouver’s fast train to nowhere

Adam Fitch’s rapid transit map. His LRT line idea is shown with a cord painted green, from a proposed new Emily Carr SkyTrain station in east False Creek to UBC. The red line, with marked stations, traces TransLink’s SkyTrain route plan as of about 2012. In the real world, stations from Arbutus are to go into service before 2025; stations west of Arbutus have been delayed indefinitely.

My thanks to Kamloops-based planner Adam Fitch. He invited me to join him on a May 4 “Jane’s Walk” to consider a cheaper alternative to the Broadway Extension rapid transit project.

Fitch’s proposal would take advantage of a corridor owned by the City of Vancouver, and would avoid most of the tunneling costs associated with the Broadway scheme. It’s an entertaining concept, but it won’t get built, largely because it won’t take people where they want to go. Continue reading

Funding for Metro Vancouver transit: are we there yet?

Surrey Central SkyTrain station

Over the past 20 years, British Columbia and local governments have failed to agree on a long-term transit funding formula for Metro Vancouver.

The regional transit authority (TransLink) sits in a governmental neutral zone, neither provincial nor local, and it suffers for a lack of political champions. Continue reading

Your own pond at New Westminster Quay

Fountain and pond south of Quayside Drive, New Westminster

With its Riverfront Vision, the City of New Westminster is building a zone that will attract visitors from around the region, in the same way that Fort Langley and White Rock have become local destinations.

30 years after the establishment of the high-density Quayside neighbourhood, tower construction continues near the public market.

This marks a new push in a 30-year-old program to transform the city’s trackside industrial waterfront. The market building at New Westminster Quay was constructed in the 1980s, on a public market model that has failed in many places (Surrey, Calgary, Robson Street in Vancouver). The Quay struggled for many years, but the residential densification of New West’s downtown has brought new customers, along with the conversion of part of the market building to office and meeting space. Continue reading

Apartment development in Surrey: crowdfunding as a doorway to home ownership

Tower construction seen from alongside the proposed new development on 104 Avenue, Surrey

I recently joined our friend David Plug on a real estate investors’ bus tour around Surrey Central. The tour’s purpose was to encourage passengers to commit at least $25,000 in financing for a proposed apartment housing complex.

With a large number of smallish investments, the development company hopes to raise at least $7.5 million, a big chunk of the estimated $13.5 million cost of purchasing land. The project prospectus lays out three scenarios. In the minimum scenario, under present City of Surrey zoning, the builders would construct 210 units in a 6-storey wood-frame complex; with revised zoning, they might achieve 359 units, and a higher rate of return to investors. Continue reading

A quick look at Sunshine Hills

This is a perfect suburban neighbourhood in conventional terms: single-family homes distributed along nested crescents, tall trees, tranquility. Watershed Park sits on the southern edge, a wide patch of rain forest with a fine network of trails. There are no hills in Sunshine Hills, but the park slopes down to the coastal plain and provides a buffer against the noise from Highway 99, the route to Seattle (south) or Vancouver (north).

You can walk from most of Sunshine Hills to the shops at Scott Road and 64th in 20 minutes or less.  The area plan, published by the municipality of Delta in 2015, makes it Sunshine Hills Centre reducedclear there is no intention to create a more explicitly walkable ring of medium-density housing around the commercial area. The residents seem to like things as they are. We did not see a single “For Sale” sign during our visit. Continue reading