Langley City mayor Ted Schaffer slows down as he prepares to make a left turn at the Surrey-City of Langley border and points to a row of well-maintained older single-family houses.
“Four lots, $4 million,” Schaffer says.
The sale went through just a few weeks ago and the new owner is expected to apply for permission to replace them with a bigger, modern multi-unit project.
Schaffer is taking a Times reporter on a quick driving tour of the City’s current building boom.
The City Development Services department is handling more than double the usual number of projects, with 19 approved or close to approval, another five applications pending and more at the preliminary discussion stage.
The projects are mostly larger residential developments, like the 98-unit, four-storey apartment building approved for a parcel of land near the 5400 block of 201 street and the 80-unit condominium going up just down the street.
A precise dollar estimate of all the activity is difficult to calculate, but it’s in the “tens of millions” of dollars, Schaffer says.
“The City is changing. That’s the big thing,” Schaffer says as he turns down a residential street that is transitioning from older single-family homes to townhouses, with several just-completed buildings already sold out and construction fencing marking the start of a new project.
“This is an area that’s just jumping” Schaffer says.
“They’re what young families can afford. They’re sold, sold, sold.”
While high-profile, high-end projects are becoming increasingly common, there is still a good mix of reasonably priced options open to buyers in Langley City, the mayor says.
Schaffer pilots his passenger past a row of industrial buildings along Production Way, a business area where the City is planning upgrades that will include new sewer and water lines.
“The City is working very hard on its infrastructure, what you don’t see,” he says.
“If we fix all this up, it should encourage more light industry to come in.”
City planners cite several factors that have combined to create the current increase in development activity — location, cost and efficiency.
The City is fairly close to the core of Metro Vancouver, but without the skyrocketing prices seen in other cities.
That makes builders who want to attract cost-conscious buyers pay attention to a community where most housing prices are running a quarter to a third less than the rest of the Lower Mainland.
A just-released report “Home Stretch: Comparing housing affordability in B.C.’s hottest markets” by Vancity rated the smaller of the two Langleys at the top of the 10 most affordable municipalities in the Lower Mainland, with a median price of $271,250 for all property types (detached, attached and condo apartments), requiring 18.4 per cent of an average household monthly income to cover mortgage costs, property taxes and maintenance costs.
That compares to the far-more-expensive West Vancouver, number one on the list of the 10 least affordable municipalities, with a median price of $2.8 million, where buyers need double an average monthly income to cover mortgage, taxes and maintenance.
Add to that, the fact the City has kept development cost charges under control, winning a “Municipal Excellence Award” from the NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association Vancouver chapter (formerly known as the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks).
NAIOP declared the City a winner in the “Most Improved” category in its 14th annual Regional Industrial Development Cost Survey, which showed the City recorded an 18 per cent drop in overall development costs.
There is also the streamlined approval process — the municipality has won a reputation for efficiency when it comes to handling development applications.
A recent Fraser Institute study found Langley City posted the fastest approval times in all of Metro Vancouver for housing permits, averaging around 1.6 months.
It’s a big selling point, considering some Metro areas can take more than a year to process development applications.
“We’ve done a project in 13 days,” Schaffer notes.
He’s referring to the processing of the Porsche dealership that was built in 2014 as part of the Langley Auto Collection, the collection of top-end car showrooms at Glover Road and the Langley Bypass billed as Canada’s only all-luxury auto mall.
On the wall of the mayor’s office at City Hall hangs a framed written message from Christian Chia, the president and CEO of OpenRoad Auto Group Ltd. praising the City as “a great place to do business”
“The City of Langley reviewed, processed and approved our development permit application in 13 days,” Chia says.
“That has to be a record!”
That kind of ultra-quick handling is not something the city can do every day, but the fact it could and did has attracted attention, Schaffer believes.
“We have noticed an increased interest (since the 13-day Porsche approval was reported). Word is getting out” Schaffer says.
“The City of Langley is no longer the best kept secret in Metro Vancouver,” says Gerald Minchuk, director of development services and economic development at the City of Langley.
In the City, development usually involves tearing down older, smaller buildings and replacing them with higher-density new structures, Minchuk says.
“We’re not expanding into greenfield areas, we’re re-developing.”
Minchuk has been meeting with builders lately, holding open houses to discuss proposed changes to the City zoning regulations to clarify language and reduce bureaucratic barriers.
“We spend a lot of time and effort understanding the issues of the development industry,” Minchuk says.
Minchuk says the City is paying attention to affordable housing, with policy goals that include support for density, providing a way of legalizing secondary suites, maintaining restrictions on converting multiple-unit rentals into condos and tracking rental housing units and social housing inventory.