Almost two years ago, (April 2014) and just prior to the last municipal election Langley Township council defeated the proposed new Brookswood/Fernridge Official Community Plan (OCP). The defeat followed three evenings of crowded and vocal public hearings at which, according to an article in the April 1, 2014, Langley Advance “…a majority of those speaking were opposed to the new plan….”
Much of the opposition to this new OCP, and, by extension, the developer and land speculator funded Griffith Neighbourhood Plan, focused on its proposals for dramatically increased densification, its lack of infrastructure planning (such as increased vehicular traffic), and, on the inability of schools, recreational facilities, medical facilities and emergency services to accommodate this rapid population growth. Environmental concerns were also at the forefront of many residents’ thoughts; because of the impact such development would have on urban greenery and wildlife and on the already severely threatened and compromised Brookswood aquifer that supplies much of the drinking water for the South Langley area.
As a result of the defeat of the 2014 OCP proposal, the active planning document guiding any and all development in Brookswood /Fernridge remains the 1987 Official Community Plan. It should be noted additionally, that since 2001 there has been a Council approved moratorium on any new development in the South Langley area, prior to adoption of a new OCP.
Two months ago, in January of 2016, Township Council decided to move ahead with the preparation of a new OCP for the area. In an unprecedented move, however, Council decided that they would effectively split Brookswood/Fernridge into developed and undeveloped areas and then concentrate planning on those undeveloped areas within the planning zone. To the more cynical residents, this appears to be a not-too-subtle attempt to sideline potential opposition to any new plan as much of the opposition to the defeated 2014 plan clearly came from residents of the developed areas within the OCP planning area.
In the past few weeks, there have been a number of developer-sponsored meetings held, to which some, but certainly not all Brookswood /Fernridge residents have been invited to attend. The meetings showcased proposed new residential developments that would require the rezoning of many acres of land (in order to permit smaller lot sizes). Yet this rezoning is being brought forward under the provisions of the old outdated 1987 OCP in the complete absence of any modern, comprehensive overall development plan for the community.
On inspection, these rezoning applications plans look very similar to those of the Willoughby South area, with the removal of all existing vegetation, and small lots (most less than 7000 sq. feet) provided with narrow back lane accesses within a crowded layout. With current permitted lot coverage of thirty five percent, it is easy to visualize very large houses being built, many of them containing suites. At one of these sponsored presentations, the developer’s consultant openly stated that houses in the development were expected to sell for well in excess of a million dollars each.
These development and variance requests will be coming before council in the coming weeks. Under the prevailing law, Council has an obligation to deal with each development proposal. Council however still has choices. It could simply deny the development approvals as they do not strictly comply with the zoning of the still-in-force 1987 Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan and the 2001 moratorium on development. Alternatively, it could defer any decision until such time as a new comprehensive community plan is completed and wins the support of Brookswood/Fernridge residents. But Council could also, simply agree to accept these development proposals and allow them to proceed in advance of the completion of a new OCP.
Clearly council should not allow any of these developments to proceed prior to the completion and approval of a new official community plan for Brookswood/Fernridge. Council’s approval would signify to developers that spot zoning is the preferred and acceptable means of planning in the township. It would also communicate to all township residents that openness, transparency, and citizen’s engagement in the planning process, are just meaningless phrases and that development and profits take precedent over proper planning.
To Brookswood/Fernridge residents, approval of any of these developments prior to the completion of the necessary background studies and a new OCP would represent a terrible betrayal of trust by council members. Building a community requires more than building houses. The development of South Langley is far too important to be left to chance and not something that is reversible once complete. Let’s work together as a community and get it right before any future developments are approved.
Wayne Crossen, Brookswood resident