This October, Barbara Scott and her husband, Wayne, will have lived in their Langley City home for 40 years.
And, up until the last five years, the couple enjoyed their life there, Scott told council during a public hearing for a five-storey condominium which Keystone Architects and Weststone Properties propose to build in her neighbourhood.
The location of the new development, which passed third reading on May 13, will be an “island” of seven lots, surrounded by 200A and 201 Streets and 53A and 53B Avenues.
Scott was among a group of about a dozen Langley City residents who attended the public hearing. Many were less concerned about the development than they were about the way their neighbourhood has deteriorated over the past five years, while the project has been in the works.
In that time, a number of homes in the area have been sold off to developers in anticipation of the construction of condominium complexes, similar to those which have proliferated in the area.
Scott said that since people began selling their properties and moving away, “the neighbourhood has deteriorated to the point where it could be considered a slum.”
Some of the houses have been rented out while others have simply been trashed and then boarded up, she said.
And, until last year, the properties were not maintained, said Scott.
“Lawns were seldom mowed, the boulevard was left to grow until the grass and weeds were a foot tall.”
Scott said it was only after residents complained frequently to the City that a tenant of one of the houses was hired to cut the grass.
At the same time, she said, fences have been “left to lean any which way.”
Fears that the empty buildings are being used as flophouses have caused neighbours to be worry about their security, said Scott.
“It’s a very disgusting area. It’s a shame we have to put up with that. We’re living in a slum area,” said Sandra Loten, a resident of a nearby condominium complex, who also spoke at the public hearing.
“How many more years are we going to have to look at that?” she asked.
Only one of several boarded-up houses is located within the square to be developed in the next two months.
Mayor Peter Fassbender told the speakers that, while it is a concern to the City, the state of the properties had no bearing on the public hearing and would be better addressed directly with the developer following the council meeting.
“We’re not trying to cut off the discussion. We will talk about it afterward,” he said.
Developers from Weststone, who had been in the audience during the public hearing, met with residents for about half an hour following the meeting and addressed some of their complaints.
Weststone is moving to develop property in the area, as quickly as it is able to assemble a large enough parcel of land to build on, Darren York told the gathering.
He said the developers understand the residents’ frustrations have while they wait for that to happen.
“We live in neighbourhoods, too,” said York.
But any work Weststone does has to make sense financially, he added.
While he was unwilling to make any promises, York said the goal is to bulldoze abandoned properties which are outside the so-called island block and potentially use them as parking space for trades workers before those lots, too, are developed.
However, when that will happen is still not clear.
In order to make a single condo development work, Weststone must purchase a parcel of six properties, explained Dale Regehr, president and CEO of the Langley-based company, which built both the Sonnet and Serenade condo projects.
Because the island location was assembled, he decided to move forward with that project, ahead of one that would see more of the surrounding lots developed.
One of the difficulties he’s facing is that there is still at least one property the developer has been unable to purchase because the owners have demanded roughly three times the value of their property, Regehr told the gathering.
“There’s a perception that developers are rich, and they’re asking way over the property value.”
Even if he was willing to pay that much, he wouldn’t be able to secure funding for such a purchase, Regehr explained.
Fassbender stayed for the meeting, as did Councillors Ted Schaffer (who voted against the project at third reading) and Dave Hall.
The mayor, who will soon step down from his position to assume his role as the new Liberal MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, told residents that dealing with derelict properties is an issue the City struggles with.
“There’s a process we have to go through and it takes longer than we would like to see,” Fassbender said.
“The City of Langley is a community in transition. We’d like to close our eyes, snap our fingers and see it done, but it’s a process.”
At the same time, he noted, developers have to see that they can make a profit on a project.
“It’s not a bad word,” said Fassbender.