There are two key issues and three parties at the heart of the application to rezone land in the Routley neighbourhood of Willoughby.
One is the land exchange agreement between the Township, Langley School District and a developer, and the other is the disputed argument that not enough children live in Routley to warrant a new elementary school.
As part of a three-way exchange, the school district would acquire a 5.46 acre site at 20626 84 Ave., in the Yorkson neighbourhood. Owned by the Bains Group, the land has been identified as a future school site, anticipated to serve Willoughby as it continues to grow.
That site is four blocks from the Lynn Fripps Elementary school currently under construction at 210 Street and 83 Ave. in Yorkson.
The Township owns 8.19 acres at 200 Street and 70 Avenue. If the townhouse proponent is successful with the land exchange agreement with the school district, the park will be developed away from the major arterial and be built adjacent to 198A Street.
That land is approximately five blocks from Langley Meadows Elementary.
In October, 2010, the Ministry of Education approved the land swap.
The Ministry of Education is the third party, and plays a pivotal role in the Routley situation as it has the final word on a school being built there.
According to school district spokesman Craig Spence, the ministry must see an “ironclad” case to approve a school at the 70 Avenue site.
A school for Routley was placed in the school district’s five-year plan in 2006/07. The five-year capital plan approved by the board in June, 2010 contained no reference to a Routley school.
The Jericho sub-neighbourhood plan was approved by council last month, opening that area as the next to develop in Willoughby.
But just how much pressure did the Township put on the school district to engage in the transaction?
Too much, some residents say, pointing to an Oct. 29, 2009 letter to school superintendent Cheryle Beaumont from Township property services manager Scott Thompson.
Thompson wrote that the Township “is being strongly pressed by the owners of the Yorkson site to either purchase the property or permit a rezoning of the property to a higher residential density.”
The Yorkson owners “have been patient to date and have indicated a willingness to achieve a negotiated solution to this matter. However, they have clearly stated that they cannot be delayed any further,” Thompson wrote.
He added: “As discussed at our meeting, SD 35 now has no plans to develop this property with a school and consequently it is surplus to SD 35 needs. Given the foregoing, the Township strongly urges SD 35 to dispose of its Routley site and use the proceeds to acquire the Yorkson site or enter into discussions with the Yorkson site property owners with a view to negotiating a land exchange.”
Spence, in a May 26 letter to The Times, said it was “inaccurate” to say a school for Routley was planned.
He said that even though the district owns or has an interest in several properties, it knows that schools will not be built on all those properties and that some of them will likely be disposed of, again, through a process that requires approval from the Ministry of Education.
He said that in approving a new school site the ministry requires a “thorough, convincing plan.”
The Bains Group’s perspective is contained in a June 20 letter to council in which Manny Bains says that the Routley property was not the group’s preference. It is too close to 200 Street, and the developer is required to build a 15 foot landscape buffer along 200 Street, dedicate a three metre wide green space on the west side, “and at the last minute we were asked to build the bio-pond at our cost.”
Bains Group agreed “because it was the best thing for the greater good of the community.”
Contrary to some residents’ claims, the Bains Group proposal complies with the Routley NP and, he added, the park would be a “big bonus” for residents.
Bains pointed out that if the application falls through, the school district would lose the Yorkson property at 20626 84 Ave. as a school site.
Echoing a comment Mayor Rick Green made at a May 31 meeting between trustees and Routley parents, Bains said that failure of the application could result in the land being sold to a developer.