2014 Newsmaker of the Year: The Battle for Brookswood

In a year defined by issues of development and growth in the Langleys, there was one neighbourhood and one issue that stood out above the others.

Brookswood, one of the Langley’s quietest suburban enclaves, exploded into anger in 2014 over plans for potential redevelopment that would have almost quadrupled the local population.

The political battle lasted for months and saw hundreds of people pack Township public meetings to express, for the most part, their opposition to a proposed new Official Community Plan (OCP).

Even once the Township council had voted, the furor affected the course of other debates and poured energy into November’s civic elections.

The debate over Brookswood remains unfinished, with another phase of public discussions over a new OCP yet to come in 2015 and possibly beyond.

The roots of the ill-fated OCP lay in 2011, when the Township approved a plan to accept $500,000 from local landowners who wanted to see a plan move forward. The Township had previously balked at starting the planning process because staff were too busy with the ongoing development of Willoughby.

With the money in hand for additional staff, plans were drawn up and public hearings held – but at first drew little interest.

In June of 2013, an open house showed options that would have increased the population of Brookswood to between 32,000 and 36,000 from its current 13,500.

By early in 2014, that had increased further to a population of 42,000 expected to move into the area over 30 years.

The first major sign of public outrage was a public open house on the Griffith Neighbourhood Plan, a sub-plan for a chunk of the Brookswood-Fernridge area from 36th Avenue to 27th Avenue.

The mid-January meeting in the Fernridge Hall was packed, with cars parked down side streets as the small lot overflowed.

The two main viewpoints on proposed plans were also in place.

Some residents were in favour of development if done right.

Sally Frost, a longtime resident, told the Langley Advance that she was okay with development, as long as it was done with taste, and that her retirement was based on an eventual redevelopment of the area.

Others didn’t want to see their home changed.

“We liked it the way it was,” said Alan Ellison.

The same two viewpoints would pop up repeatedly as the controversy heated up over the following several months.

Those opposed to the project began gathering names on petitions, writing letters to the editor, and they came out in droves to an open house in Feburary at Brookswood Secondary.

Major concerns among those opposed to the new plan were the overall population, the density of the new neighbourhoods to be built in Fernridge and around major intersections, traffic, transit, potentially overcrowded schools, and hospital spaces. Residents also worried about how certain routes had been drawn on maps – including a much-widened 196th Street, and one map that showed 40th Avenue being punched straight through the middle of Brookswood Park.

Those opposed to the plan said they had moved to Brookswood because they wanted it the way it was – a mixture of small lots and acreages to the south in Fernridge.

Those views were on display at a three-night public hearing in early March. While some local residents did give full or conditional support to the proposed OCP, they were in the minority.

On March 30, about 300 people rallied for a march from Noel Booth Community Park to Brookswood Park in opposition to the plan.

In early April, Township council voted 7-2 to scrap the Official Community Plan process and start over completely. 

However, it is uncertain exactly when a new OCP planning process might start again. Many residents, even those opposed to the plan, said they did want some kind of updated OCP, just one with more public input.

The Brookswood debate would influence the rest of the year in local politics.

In April, the council passed a temporary tree cutting bylaw for Brookswood, after reports that some landowners were clearcutting their properties.

Brookswood also became one of the biggest issues of the fall civic election.

Former mayor Rick Green decided to run again, and criticized incumbent Jack Froese for his handling of the matter, claiming that the decision to start the plan had begun under Froese. Froese shot back by pointing out that the decision had actually been taken before he was ever elected, though Green had been absent from the vote that kick-started the planning process.

Although Green did not win the election, he was more popular at the polls in Brookswood than at any other location around the Township.

Brookswood’s issues were compared frequently to complaints about the pace and type of development in Willoughby, and to other controversial council decisions, such as approval of Fort Langley’s Coulter Berry Building.

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