A sometimes sharp-edged series of exchanges between would-be Langley Township councillors and mayoral candidates took place Tuesday night at the Langley Events Centre.
After brief opening statements from the three mayoral and 22 council candidates, Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce president Kristine Simpson asked the candidates to hold up Yes, No, or Question Mark cards as she asked how they would have voted on a number of controversial issues that came up over the last term.
The issues included development of the Tuscan Farm area and the Wall property near Trinity Western, The Brookswood Official Community Plan, the sale of land in Glen Valley, and high-density developments in Willoughby at 208th Street and 82nd Avenue, and at 200th and 68th.
On most of the issues, the group split, with the bulk of incumbent candidates and a couple of newcomers noting they had voted in favour of most of the projects, while the larger group of new candidates and a few incumbents were consistently against. The only issue that got a majority of Yes signs was the development of the Willoughby Town Centre shopping area on 208th Street.
Development in Willoughby and the failed Brookswood OCP came up several times during the night.
One of the early questions was about whether development in Willoughby should be put on hold to wait for infrastructure such as schools, roads, and parks to catch up.
â€œGrowth pays for growth,â€ said incumbent Mayor Jack Froese. He pointed to Walnut Grove as another community that went through similar growing pains two decades ago.
Rick Green, who served as mayor from 2008 to 2011, said the answer wasnâ€™t stopping growth altogether.
â€œThe correct answer is slow it down,â€ Green said. He added that poor planning had led to poor development at present.
Several incumbents defended the way Willoughby is being developed, in which roads are built or widened by developers.
â€œWalnut Grove was an experiment, and it broke this cityâ€™s back,â€ said Charlie Fox.
Taxes went up because roads were put in first, before development, Fox said. Managed growth is needed, and new neighbourhood plans are responding to concerns, said Fox.
â€œWe cannot afford to download all the expenses on to the residents of this community,â€ said Bev Dornan.
â€œGive it a chance, get it finished, stopping it is not the answer,â€ said Bob Long.
New candidates, especially those from Willoughby, were much less positive.
Clint Lee of Live Langley said he lives at â€œground zeroâ€ of Willoughby, and said overdevelopment is out of control. There is a need to step back and create a new strategic vision for the area, he said.
Angie Quaale fired back at Lee for the â€œground zeroâ€ comparison, saying it was offensive.
Kerri Ross, also of Live Langley, mentioned that she slept in front of her sonâ€™s school with many other parents, all trying to get their children into Kindergarten due to lack of school spaces. The lack of any transit now or planned for the immediate future is also an issue, she said.
Solon Bucholtz said that a lack of infrastructure devalues the community.
Patricia Lessard mentioned the possibility of using Community Amenity Charges, in which developers pay more money for local amenities such as parks, possibly getting higher density in exchange.
On Brookswood, Froese and Green sparred briefly after Froese said that the OCP process started under Greenâ€™s term as mayor.
Green said he had nothing to do with the group of developers who came forward to fund the creation of the new Brookswood OCP. The community did want a new OCP of some kind, Green said, though not necessarily the one they got.
One constant theme among new candidates was that community consultation needs to be improved or revamped in some way.
Virtually everyone agreed that a new rec centre and pool for Aldergrove is a priority, but there were a few divisions on how big the pool should be and how to pay for it.
Zosia Ettenberg and Petrina Arnason both said they were in favour of the larger pool many in the community had requested.
David Davis said he supports building the center in stages if necessary for financial reasons.
â€œWe canâ€™t put it on taxes, we have to get creative,â€ Davis said.
Lessard refered to a recent incident where trees were cut down in Gloucester despite a covenant protecting them; she suggested perhaps the owner would like to make a contribution to the pool fund.
A question on the Wall property and the University District adjacent to Trinity Western saw concerns raised about agricultural land.
â€œTaking any land out of the ALR is zero tolerance and should not be done,â€ said Dave Stark.
Incumbent Michelle Sparrow also said there shouldnâ€™t be urban development on agricultural lands, and that council needs to be firm.
Candidate and TWU professor Blair Whitmarsh said he was in favour of the University District but had some concerns about the Wall property â€“ that project was separate from the university expansion, he said. A number of other candidates made the same distinction.
â€œIf you approve spot zoning once, youâ€™ll approve it again,â€ said Bucholtz.
A question about term limits led to some boos from the crowd for incumbent Steve Ferguson. Ferguson talked about running for his eighth term, and after some grumbling told one person in the crowd to â€œlisten for a change.â€ That drew jeers and booing. Ferguson said later he was specifically speaking to one person who was interrupting speakers.
Scott Nichols was one of the new candidates in favour of term limits, saying council needed new faces after having enough of the old ways.
Petrina Arnason noted it was difficult to oppose term limits, as her mother the late Muriel Arnason had served on the Township council for 26 consecutive years.
The debate drew a sizeable crowd of several hundred people.