Glen Valley residents rally to save forest ‘jewel’

Parcel of land bearing trees, 80 to 100 years old, has been put up for sale to pay for purchase of former Aldergrove school site

Jada stands next to a large conifer on the 21-acre Glen Valley property which Langley Township has put up for sale. Proceeds would be used to purchase the former Aldergrove Elementary School which it plans to convert to a community Centre.  Area residents want the land left as it is.

Jada stands next to a large conifer on the 21-acre Glen Valley property which Langley Township has put up for sale. Proceeds would be used to purchase the former Aldergrove Elementary School which it plans to convert to a community Centre. Area residents want the land left as it is.

The corner of 252 Street and 84 Avenue holds one of Glen Valley’s best kept secrets — a pristine forest of large, 80 to 100-year-old conifer trees that some locals compare to old-growth regions in Stanley Park and Vancouver Island’s Cathedral Grove.

But residents fear that this gem may soon be gone.

The Township, which acquired the land in the 1930s, is now selling the 21-acre parcel — comprised of one five-acre and two eight-acre plots in the Agriculture Land Reserve  (ALR) — to raise funds to purchase the empty Aldergrove Elementary School building on Fraser Highway. The school will be turned into a recreation centre for the community.

While the Glen Valley residents say they have no intention of halting the purchase of the school and, in fact, support the proposal, they believe the money for the Aldergrove Elementary site should come from somewhere else.

“This is about preserving (the forest) for all present and future residents of all areas of Langley, a site that cannot be relocated or purchased elsewhere at any price in the future,” Glen Valley resident Stuart Bucholtz told council on Monday evening.

“This treasure belongs to all the people of all of Langley and we respectfully seek a stay of execution of this rare forest,” he said.

The decision to sell the land was made at an in-camera council meeting in September, 2011. Since then, a new mayor and two new councillors have been elected.

The parcels at 252 Street and 84 Avenue are three of eight pieces of land being sold to help pay for the Aldergrove site.

The others are five-acre lots, located outside the ALR at 257A Street and 84 Avenue. If all eight parcels are sold at their appraised values, they will generate more money than is needed to purchase Aldergrove Elementary School, Mayor Jack Froese told The Times.

The lots were put up for sale on the BC Bid website in May, and the bids will be closed this Friday (June 29) at 2 p.m.

However, this does not mean that the properties will necessarily be sold on June 29, Froese said.

“The process is not over just because the bidding closes; we still have to review it. There are several pieces of land for sale and council may decide to sell all of them, or part of them, or none of them,” Froese said. “At council, this isn’t a done deal.

“We are looking for ways to fund an Aldergrove community centre. It’s a priority this council has taken on.

We look at everything, but we have to look at what is good for the Township.”

At the end of his presentation Bucholtz handed council a petition bearing the names of 225 area residents who are opposed to the land sale, which were collected less than a week before the council meeting. Bucholtz did not become aware of the sale until a week ago, and says that most of the petitioners were not aware, either.

That’s because no “for sale” signs have been installed at the any of the properties, and the public was not properly informed, Bucholtz said. This was challenged by Councillor Bob Long, who said that the Township ran two full page ads promoting the sale in the local newspapers.

The Times ran the ad on the bottom third of the the Township page on May 17 and as half page ads on the Township pages three times in May.

Bucholtz’s son, Solon Bucholtz, who is a realtor in Langley, questions the logic of selling the land in this manner.

“If it’s truly necessary to sell some land, would it not make sense to market the properties effectively in order to maintain the highest market value? I have spoken with many realtors, clients, citizens and few have any knowledge of this sale. I know how things can look on paper when you are trying to sell some land, but have you ever been there?” he asked.

According to the Township, signs weren’t put up because the land is located in a rural area, and does not receive enough traffic to warrant signage. Albert Anderson, owner of Aldor Acres Farm, disagrees.

Popular nearby tourist attractions, including Anderson’s farm, The Fort Wine Company and Barbara Boldt Art Gallery and Studios bring plenty of traffic to the area, Anderson said. He estimates he’s had at least 1,000 cars from across the Lower Mainland at Alder Acres in the past two months. The Glen Valley roadways are also very popular among cyclists and motorcyclists, he added.

“Would any of you sell a house without putting up a sign?” Anderson asked council. “I doubt it.”

Another issue is clarification of whether the land has been designated as a park.

In 1993, the Environmentally Sensitive Area’s report was completed for the Township of Langley by Westwater Research Centre. It refers to the area as “Conifer Forest, McLellan Park.”

There are also historical accounts from many long-time residents, claiming the land was promised as a park in the 1940s. Stuart Bucholtz said that one neighbour he spoke to was “incensed” when he heard of the proposal to sell the land and was too upset to attend council that night. The man believes the land is a designated park.

But the Township says it isn’t.

“I have asked staff and there is no record of it ever being designated as a park,” Froese said. “(The report) was a consultant referring to it as a park, that was not the Township referring to it as a park.

“As far as I know — and we haven’t found anything that says it’s ever been designated as a park — if it was designated a park it would enter a completely different process; we could not sell it as surplus land.”

Instead, the delegates suggested that the Township sell a different piece of land to raise the money for the Aldergrove building.

“People go to Vancouver Island and beyond to walk amongst intact forest. This site is within 20 minutes of anywhere in Langley,” Solon Bucholtz read from his father’s statement to council.

“This site should be the jewel in the crown of a trail network, not a parking lot trailhead to narrow walkways between private properties. This is a regional, destination treasure of a park site.

“Surely, the approximate $2 million that may be realized from the sale of this site is a relatively small amount in the big picture and can be generated elsewhere. Possibly other Township lands that have no natural forest and are no longer used by the Township could be considered, or other funding methods,” he read.

Later on, responding to a question from Councillor Steve Ferguson, Bucholtz said: “I’m not opposed to sales of lands by the Township, I’m opposed to sales of lands that can’t be replaced.”

Councillor Charlie Fox said there is a piece of land identical to the Glen Valley site at the end of the Township-owned Irene Pearce trail between 224 and 232 Streets in south Langley.

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