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Housing legislation like surgery with a chainsaw, says Langley Township mayor

City mayor more positive, as legislation highlights growth differences
If new provincial legislation passes, single family homes could be re-built as four-plexes starting next year. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

The mayors of Langley Township and City have diverging views on the new provincial legislation that aims to end single-family zoning across most of B.C.

Township Mayor Eric Woodward said it throws out years of planning work by the Township, and will have a huge effect on the density of areas just starting development in Brookswood-Fernridge.

“It is conducting surgery on housing policy with a chainsaw,” Woodward said.

In Langley City, Mayor Nathan Pachal was more positive, saying it will accelerate changes south of the Nicomekl River, but that the municipality will be able to handle it.

“It is a significant change, but we are in a housing crisis,” said Pachal.

The difference between how the new bills will affect communities that are already almost entirely developed – which includes communities like Vancouver, but also Langley City – with those that still have a significant amount of large lots that can be developed from scratch – like Langley Township and Surrey.

Part of the recently introduced Bill 44 allows for small-scale multi-unit homes (SSMUs) to be built on any single-family lot in a community with a population higher than 5,000 people.

In practice, that means that existing neighbourhoods of houses could be redeveloped into three or four units. That could be as a house, basement suite, and coach house, but it could be as a fourplex. Near high-frequency transit stops, the density rises to six units.

Woodward said that the bill upends planning for whole neighbourhoods in South Brookswood.

The Township just completed neighbourhood plans for Fernridge, Booth, and Rinn, which already included a lot of “gentle density,” as well as significant areas of single-family zoning.

Almost none of that land has yet been developed, and Woodward said this means developers can come in and build up to four units on any of those lots, greatly increasing the density above what the Township planned for.

That means that the Township’s plans for the number of parks, schools, playgrounds, community centres, and other amenities won’t work.

The same is true of water and sewer servicing.

“It looks like we’ll have to review engineering services plans within development areas,” said Woodward.

Parts of Willoughby that were zoned for single family, but which still haven’t been developed, are facing the same issue.

Woodward said that he and other mayors were not consulted about the changes prior to the legislation being announced. The new rules are expected to take effect next spring if the changes pass as planned.

The changes will have a much smaller impact on Langley City, although they will change plans that were in the works.

It was in June of this year that the City began surveying residents about adding more density to some areas south of the Nicomekl River. The City was proposing changes to its Official Community Plan to allow more of what it called “ground oriented residential” housing, including townhouses, duplexes, and fourplexes – very similar to the SSMUs the province is now allowing.

But the City was looking at allowing the density along 200th Street and 208th, and in a few pockets near the Nicomekl floodplain.

Now the entire area south of the river is open to fourplexes.

“We wanted a gradual introduction of missing middle housing along 200th Street and 208th Street, to introduce people to the concept,” said Pachal. “The provincial government has certainly accelerated that.”

The City will still be looking at issues like parking, privacy screening, and landscaping for the new types of housing, Pachal said.

“You’re zoned for four units. Everything else still applies.”

But in general, he believes that changes Victoria is also proposing to standardize development cost charges – which pay for things like new roads, sewers, and streetlights – will allow the City to deal with higher-density infill development.

“Actually, we have more flexibility now with the new provincial changes,” Pachal said.

Because the City was in the middle of a review of its zoning, the timing worked out well for dealing with the new changes, he said.

The SSMU rules are one of a package of changes the province has introduced, including greater density around transit hubs, and a crackdown on short-term rentals like Airbnb.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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