Several years ago my husband and I bought an old Tudor home with great bones and in need of some serious TLC, in the Williams area of Willoughby.
It happened quite naturally, our home improvements have expanded to community improvement. Unfortunately many of our Williams neighbours do not share our values.
I have been able to attend the open door community dialogues, neighbourhood design charrettes and all the team workshops the Township has offered regarding the Williams neighbourhood plan, which is the last neighbourhood plan in Willoughby to be completed.
The behaviours that I have seen exhibited by my neighbours reminded me of a documentary that explained why apes, even with ninety nine percent of their DNA same as humans, are lagging so far behind us on the evolutionary scale. Two of the main reasons were lack of impulse control and the apparent inability to teach others with encouragement, new skills that could help advance their society.
Isn’t it amazing how much say that one percent can have over how things turn out. The largest stakeholder/non-resident in Williams, has had by far the most presence and influence over the Williams plans at these meetings. He has had family members and several employees present at each table to represent his interests, which include the business park land north of 80th and several parcels of land in the residential portion of Williams south of 80th.
The Williams area is made up predominately of retirees and developer/stakeholders, which I will refer to as the Money group. This Money group has banded together to impress their will upon the Township, which includes increasing all the zoning in Williams to high density. This of course will increase all their land values (and our property taxes) which they can then sell to the highest bidder.
Their complaint to the Township is that if densities are not increased, they will not get fair value for their land, like other land owners in higher density areas of Willoughby have. Really? One could argue that land values are already high enough as it is, and many people are priced out of this hypermarket because of it.
This is no longer just about getting a return on their investment, this is about cashing in a lotto ticket. This is a situation of pure and simple greed, no matter what the cost to the community.
The Money group is not concerned about such issues as overcrowded schools, unsafe streets and lack of green space. The Money group have made it clear that they are working on their “exit strategy.” Even the ones that say they want to stay immediately add, “but it probably won’t be livable, so I have to plan my exit strategy”. I’ve even had a member of this group tell me, “I don’t mind this area going to highest density, I just wouldn’t want to live in it!” Some of our Williams neighbours have clear-cut their land of old redwoods for profit and others have threatened to fill in the waterways and ponds, “if it’s going to be a problem.”
Unlike the Money group, we have not adopted the doomsday attitude, despite the concerted effort to convert us. Unfortunately, many others have caved to the fear and pressure tactics. I will endure the glares and post it notes demanding a road be put through our house as long as necessary in order to express our main priority of livability in this neighbourhood. But my family makes up a small minority in Williams. When it comes to wanting a livable community we can raise our kids in, I believe we have more in common with our Yorkson neighbours. We can see our values matching up every time the next set of plans are brought to open house and the broader community.
In fact, the most obnoxious ones of the Money group have complained about the Yorkson neighbourhood having any say at all in regards to what happens in Williams.
We have witnessed first hand the necessity of the Modus consultants, which could not have been more evident than during a neighbourhood team workshop held on May 26th at the Willoughby Community Hall. The first 30 minutes was completely unproductive, with the loudest of the Money group angrily stating their disapproval, that the Township had not picked the plan that They wanted.
Consulting reps tried to explain that the Township must consider many voices in the community, not only theirs. Tensions were high, especially when a Township engineer/planner tried to talk and was over powered by certain members of the Money group. If it wasn’t for the consultants, (and my husband), stepping in to defuse the situation, we really wouldn’t have gotten much done and only the loudest, most obnoxious would have been heard.
We believe in working with the people our tax dollars have hired, engineers, planners, facilitators, to effect positive change, as opposed to working against them or just not engaging at all. So my husband and I have taken every opportunity to participate in these community engagement events and have appreciated the objectivity and professionalism these mediator/consultants have brought to the table.
Its been frustrating to see the misinformation or misinterpretations of what is truly happening in our neighbourhood. For example, a Langley Advance June 16th article that read, ‘Mini-mansions were suggested but didn’t go over well.’ The reality to that is, the Township planners and engineers had tried to put together a well thought out neighbourhood plan that made efficient use of the topography in our area and still maintained some lower densities and green space. Certain landowners in the Money group were upset that the Township had not considered higher densities for all of Williams. At the June 14th open house, I witnessed one member of this group grab a stack of post it notes, then repeatedly write, ‘No Estate Lots’ and slap these all over the panels. Hopefully the Township catches on and notices the same handwriting. But the point is, it’s not the land that’s the problem here, it’s the landowners.
We are not against development, in fact after the way we have been treated, we are looking forward to some new neighbours. All we are asking for is that some lower density be maintained, especially along 216th, next to farmland.
It makes more logical sense that if the rest of Willoughby is being built out to high density, that Williams retain some lower density. This would automatically provide more green space and not put such intense pressure on amenities, like schools, which realistically, families will not see any significant improvements for many years to come, despite the high density development moving full speed ahead.
Then they say, well no one can afford larger lots any more. This is simply not true, the few that ever list in resourceful neighbourhoods have sold their larger properties pretty quick. Not everyone needs to live in a rowhome or condo in Willoughby, so there needs to be a variety of housing for everyone.
We currently live in a system where the population is forced to consume less space than they want, and then bid against each other for it. Most property winds up in the hands of developers who have no interest in a true local economy. Developers and decision makers should be obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders.
Is more high density what our community of Willoughby needs? I am so tired of hearing the Money group pushing their agenda under the guise of ‘affordable’ housing. While they push to secure their exit strategy, Metro Vancouver pushes their Regional Growth Strategy. After reading the MV Regional Growth Strategy and after sifting through all the great ideologies, it was clear their main directive of sustainability was to sustain the current rate of growth. Many researchers and scientists would argue that we cannot sustain this current rate of growth. I couldn’t help but wonder who the Vancouver based analysts were that helped create this Strategy and if they had any idea what sustaining the current rate of growth looked like for our town.
The 216th interchange will be an important gateway into Langley. What do we want it to say about us? The stakeholder is pushing for the same old business parks you see at interchanges; gas stations, Timmy Hos, blah, blah, boring. He is used to making money that way, but its not the only way and sometimes it takes a push from the more creative minded to show them that.
The Township needs to support their own green initiatives and push more innovative solutions. My husband and I have suggested an ‘Electric Café’, a larger charging station for EV’s, combined with an eco-friendly coffee shop, etc.. This is an excellent location for those commuting in the valley, but so far this idea has received a less than lack luster response from the stakeholder.
This is an opportunity to show that Langley isn’t just a bunch of dumb farmers catering to the powers and pressures of Vancouver/Burnaby. (Now don’t get riled, I’m not insulting farmers, I’m only making a commentary on a perception.)
This is an opportunity to show them that Langley takes care of its residents and has the forethought to combine our history of respecting our land along with being progressive.
Our stance is, well where do you go now to live in a resourceful, walkable community where development isn’t on your doorstep? Pretty rare, and we are not moving to Saskatoon, so we might as well stay and try to make this a great place to live, for us and the generations that come after us.
Noni Cicuto, Williams resident