Housing Crunch: Trying to build neighbourhoods in Langley

This week in our housing series, we look at planning for new neighbourhoods.

Planning a community is a long-range activity.

In Langley, plans for the redevelopment of the City’s downtown or Aldergrove’s core were made years ago but have yet to get off the ground. Brookswood has been in the planning stage for more than four years, as residents, landowners, and council spar over its future.

Even Willoughby, the fastest growing neighbourhood in the Township, has been the centre of development for almost two decades now.

Russell Nelson, the senior long range planner with Langley Township, talked about how that planning process goes forward when actually building a community can take many years.

In previous years, much of Langley was rural or composed of quarter-acre lots.

As new neighbourhoods develop, planners are changing the kinds of amenities they want to include.

The basic guideline for planning a neighbourhood is the idea of the “complete community,” said Nelson.

That means a range of housing options for different incomes, buyer preferences, and stages of life, from first-time homeowners to families to seniors.

It means places for people to work, and services or other amenities. Those range from parks and schools to grocery and retail stores.

As the philosophy behind planning has evolved, neighbourhood design has changed.

For example, making neighbourhoods walkable has taken on more importance.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as Walnut Grove was developing, the municipality planned for a series of trails, through the ravines and connecting parks.

It gives local residents there places to walk, jog, and get exercise.

By the time Willoughby was being developed, that idea had been upgraded to greenways – wider walking paths that pass through communities

“It’s a key thread that ties the fabric of the community together,” said Nelson.

Greenways are intended to link to sidewalks, but also rec centres, parks, shops, and other services.

“The paved area is much wider [than a sidewalk], at least double,” said Nelson.

They bend and wind and may include public art. They often veer away from roads, like the greenway east of 208th Street between 77A Avenue and 76th Avenue, which cuts between townhouse developments.

One of the key changes facing planners is that fewer and fewer residents will have private backyards in the future.

As of July in Langley Township, almost twice as many multi-family units – condos and townhouses – were being built as the previous year. More than 900 have already been built by seven months into 2017.

That isn’t because there is no land on which to build single-family homes, said Nelson. The market currently favours condos and townhouses, so those projects are being built first.

“There’s less focus on sort of private, outdoor green space,” he said.

That means planning for more public green space.

“It’s proximity of parks, not just parks,” said Nelson.

The Township has been building “pocket parks” around Willoughby, and they are planned for development in Brookswood-Fernridge too, if a new official community plan is ever approved there.

“They’re focused around play structures, trees, lots of plantings,” he said.

The idea is to have many small local parks, not just large passive nature parks or collections of sports fields, sad Nelson.

One new kind of park the Township will be trying out in Willoughby is a linear park.

Proposed for the Carvolth area, which is expected to see rapid and dense development soon, it will serve both residents in the condos and townhouses, as well as workers in the office buildings planned to be built near the transit exchange.

“It’s elongated,” said Nelson. “In this case, it actually traverses several blocks.”

The park is planned for a quarter mile in total, between 84th and 86th avenue.

Nelson emphasized that no municipality can build a neighbourhood from scratch.

“We don’t provide the schools, we don’t provide the hospitals, but we ensure there’s space for them,” said Nelson.

That means waiting for the provincial government to deliver those other amenities.

The private sector does the homebuilding, which also means that the market drives much of what happens in housing.

Neighbourhood and community plans also remain “living documents,” subject to change. Willoughby has been under development since the turn of the century and is only about one third finished.

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