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.

Fraseropolis.com 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.]

 

Home ownership in the Lower Mainland: a diminishing prospect

Central Pitt Meadows, 2017

A report on housing from VanCity, a member-owned financial institution, finds a continuing decline in housing affordability in the B.C. Lower Mainland.

Home ownership costs are rising across the region as buyers look beyond the City of Vancouver. In the background, the report suggests that home ownership is a lost cause for an increasing number of British Columbians. Continue reading

A climate forecast for Metro Vancouver

crescent-beach-2-reducedThe Greater Vancouver regional authority has published a “Climate Projections” document that predicts a rise of 3 degrees Celsius in the local average temperature by the 2050s, within the working lifetime of people now in their twenties.

Mountainside reservoir; photo from

Mountainside reservoir; photo from “Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver”

Among other impacts, we can look forward to:

  • Reduced snowpack on the coastal mountains, hotter and drier summers, and lower summertime water levels in local reservoirs.
  • More very hot days and tropical nights, with demand for energy to run refrigerators and air conditioners forecast to increase to 6 times the current requirement.
  • A 45% increase in “growing degree days,” a measure of the warmth that grows crops.
  • Tough times for winter recreation operators.

Continue reading

A conversation about short-term rentals

apartment-detail-reduced

A hypothetical example:

A young working couple struggles to pay the mortgage on a high-priced Vancouver-area home. They build a basement apartment, to code. They find a tenant and declare their rental income to Canada Revenue. The tenant causes trouble, and the B.C. Rental Tenancy Act makes the eviction slow and stressful.

Vacancy rates in Metro Vancouver, fall 2015. This map was not provided

Vacancy rates in Metro Vancouver, fall 2015 (CMHC) with irrelevant census code numbers. This map was  not shown in the fall 2016 report but the numbers were almost unchanged.

So they think: why not rent our apartment to tourists or business people online, through Airbnb? We’d probably make more money, and the agency will pay for any damages if there’s trouble. Continue reading

The working poor in Metro Vancouver

Walmart

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning research centre, has published a report on the incidence of poverty among working people in Metro Vancouver.

The 35-page study by CCPA economist Iglika Ivanovna has major flaws as an advocacy piece, but it delivers the useful reminder that “having a job is not a guaranteed path out of poverty.” Continue reading

The amalgamation of cities

"Implementing reclaimed material along the banks of the woonasquatucket river." Lifted from daftdetroit.wordpress.com

“Implementing reclaimed material along the banks of the woonasquatucket river.” Lifted from daftdetroit.wordpress.com

Some of the most critical problems in B.C. urban life can be linked to our multi-municipality system of regional government. The lack of a sustainable funding formula for public transit in Metro Vancouver, for example, can be blamed in part on years of dithering by mayors. Our local housing and homelessness policies are a mish-mash, with some municipalities clearly offloading social problems onto others.

In Ontario, a “common sense” provincial government took the drastic step of eliminating many mayors and councils in the late 1990s. The most populous region, Toronto, imploded from six cities into a single mega-city. In Ottawa, 11 municipalities merged into one. Across Ontario, 229 municipalities, or more than a quarter of the total, were wiped from the map to achieve cost savings and more efficient decision-making. Continue reading

Mr. Pachal goes to City Hall

Langley City Hall March 2016

I drove to Langley City Hall a couple of weeks ago (two guys with a canoe, above) to watch our friend Nathan Pachal take his oath as the newest member of City Council. He collected just over 35 per cent of the vote in a local by-election; in a race with nine candidates this was good enough for a win.

NathanNathan is a student of urban issues, a dedicated transit user and the editor at the South Fraser Blog. Langley City is a densifying municipality of 25,000 people bordered on the south, north and east by the sprawling Langley Township and on the west by the massive City of Surrey. A 2014 community profile sets out the hope that Langley City will become the commercial and artistic hub for a suburban market area of 250,000 people. Continue reading