Langley Township may repeal three major neighbourhood plans that took years to develop, as the plans are likely to be upended by new provincial housing rules.
The council voted to begin a repeal of the Booth, Rinn, and Fernridge neighbourhood plans when and if the province confirms that there will be no exemption for those areas from the rules of Bill 44, which recently passed in the provincial Legislature.
Bill 44, one of a number of recent major housing bills, essentially ends single-family zoning across large swathes of British Columbia. Among other things, it allows for buildings up to the size of a fourplex on lots currently zoned single family, as long as the lots are serviced for water and sewer.
“It’s fair to say, it’ll be very challenging for those plans to move forward, at least as I see it,” said Mayor Eric Woodward, who put forward the motion for the potential repeal.
The neighbourhood plans for the South Brookswood/Fernridge area included a mixture of low-rise condos, townhomes and duplexes, and significant areas of single-family housing. In some parts of the region, about 50 to 60 per cent of the land was planned for single-family housing.
If all those single-family lots were built out to include threeplexes and fourplexes, the projected future population of the area could rise from an estimated 47,000 up to 120,000, according to Township estimates.
The concern is that would throw off estimates and designs for parks, sewer and water infrastructure, and future school sites. Woodward also raised the issue of parking requirements.
“At the very least, it’s going to need an update, a very substantial one,” said Woodward.
Council voted 7-2 in favour of considering the repeal.
Woodward was not optimistic that the Township will receive an exemption, based on conversations with B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.
The mayor and several councillors suggested that the possibility of an exemption is small to non-existent, and that the area will see another round of planning based on the new rules.
Some councillors looked on the positive side of coming up with a new plan.
“We have a great opportunity here that most municipalities won’t have, that we can accommodate these requirements in the Brookswood neighbourhood plan,” said Councillor Misty VanPopta.
She noted that the rules of Bill 44 will apply to all single-family areas of the Township, including neighbourhoods like Walnut Grove, which has more than 20,000 residents. But the council has the opportunity to plan the Brookswood area to meet the demands of Bill 44.
“This is us being thoughtful and protecting ourselves,” she said. “We have an opportunity here to do it right.”
“I’m choosing to look at the positive here,” said Coun. Michael Pratt.
The youngest member of council, Pratt noted that he’s among the generation who can’t afford to buy a house – the provincial reforms are being put through due to the high cost of housing.
The motion didn’t pass without some angry back-and-forth debate between the mayor and Coun. Kim Richter, who wanted to delay the motion until the council could meet with Kahlon or ministry housing staff.
“Why aren’t we talking to him [Kahlon] before we jump into this very aggressive move to repeal our plans, which I think is a slap in the face to the members of the public in this community that in good faith put lots of time and attention into these plans?”
She accused Woodward of media grandstanding after he’d given recent interviews about his displeasure with some aspects of the provincial housing strategy.
“I don’t want to jump the gun and piss in the province’s Cornflakes just so I can get on TV,” Richter said.
Woodward noted during the same debate that Richter had actually voted against the neighbourhood plans for Booth, Rinn, and Fernridge when they were passed earlier this year.
The neighbourhood plans have been in the works for some time.
They have been re-worked twice just in 2023, with modifications based first on market conditions and then on public feedback from open houses and a public hearing.