Large trees have been cut down on a north Langley property to make way for a back lane, as an Aldergrove developer prepares to build six homes on three lots near the Golden Ears Bridge. Neighbours say the zoning that allows this is outdated and needs to be changed.

Large trees have been cut down on a north Langley property to make way for a back lane, as an Aldergrove developer prepares to build six homes on three lots near the Golden Ears Bridge. Neighbours say the zoning that allows this is outdated and needs to be changed.

Growing pains in the Township of Langley

Decades old zoning causes conflict between builder and neighbours as community’s rural roots clash with modern development

Residents in a small corner of northwest Langley are lobbying Township council to change “outdated” zoning, saying builders are taking advantage of it.

But the builder whose project has prompted neighbours to speak out, says he’s only providing the type of homes people want.

“When the trees went down, that’s when it hit the fan,” said resident Daphne Kelly, who watched with dismay as dozens of significant trees — some more than 100 years old — were clear-cut from three properties near her Walnut Grove home last month.

“Just about every neighbour that backs onto that property called the Township and nobody could seem to get the right answer.”

For two years, Kelly and a group of her neighbours have been asking council to change the zoning of properties near the Golden Ears Bridge — most which house mobile homes — from rural zone RU-1 to residential zone R-1A.

The 37 parcels of land, located between 201 Street on the west, 203A Street on the east, the CN Rail lines in the north and 98 Avenue in the south, were originally created by a legal plan from 1911.

The area is surrounded by industrial buildings to the west and south, and a new subdivision to the east.

Technically, each parcel can have up to two houses built and stratified — a rule intended for farmers to house workers or extended family.

But with the farms long gone and current lot sizes ranging from 6,000 to 17,000 square-feet, the rural zoning is giving builders a “loophole” to construct new houses without the restraints of development permits, Kelly says.

Builder Harry Bandesha of Reno Quality Homes, has twice bought land in the area and built two homes on a single lot, she said.

Now, Bandesha is proposing to build six homes on three lots at 20337, 20359, and 20371 98 Ave.

The application has led Kelly, and 66 of her neighbours, to sign a petition to the Township stating that they “fully support the rezoning bylaws.”

“All we were asking for, right from the very get-go, was to limit it to one house per lot,” Kelly said.

“That’s the whole crux of the matter …  we want to stop that development.”

A major concern is that the small lanes and one-way access that serves the area will not be able to handle more traffic from new neighbours.

The neighbourhood also has open ditches on the roads, meaning there is no room for street parking, and no streetlights, no municipal garbage pickup, no sidewalks and no curbs, she added.

“There wasn’t a plan put in place by the Township to have a proper neighbourhood put in,” said Rene Oreskovic, whose property backs on to the three lots where the clear-cutting took place.

“It was so frustrating because here we are, working families trying to make a living and have our investments in property. And these guys come in, they clear-cut, they have no respect for what is existing in the area already as far as greenery and how we can still make this a green-space … even though it’s going to be developed.”

Oreskovic says there has been a lack of transparency between the builder and the nearby residents, as the builder is able to use a building permit rather than a development permit for construction.

When her family purchased their home in 2013, she says they were told both by the realtor and the Township that the large trees lining her lot and Bandesha’s — five of which are actually on Township easement property — would likely never be removed.

She was shocked when they were cut down in March to make room for a lane that will be used to access the back three homes.

“I wasn’t given forewarning from the Township that these trees were coming down. Having known, I would have actually removed my kids from the house,” Oreskovic said.

“It was really traumatic for them … I came home to my three children in tears, and they actually couldn’t bear to watch, it was that painful for them … They’ve been raised in school and at home to view them (trees) as living creatures, and for them to see them literally be taken down by bulldozers — they don’t even do it gracefully. They literally just take a bulldozer and kick them over sideways. It was really quite gut-wrenching for them.

“It looks like something was bombed behind my house.”

Oreskovic, whose home is on a 7,000 square-foot lot, is also worried that “cramming” smaller homes on smaller lots will devalue her property.

She has been assured by the builder that won’t happen, as a $1.3 million home with a three-car garage will be built behind her.

“I have no idea how you’re going to fit six homes — one with a three-car garage — and a laneway in that kind of space,” she said.

“There is nothing beautiful about two homes stacked one in front of the other with no yard and no greenery.”

But Bandesha says he didn’t want to cut down the trees — he was required to. The Township said he needs to install a laneway in the back, and unfortunately those trees were in the centre of it.

“I’m sorry we had to cut the trees, (but) we have to build the lane,” he told the Times.

“If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, (but) it’s a city lane, we have to build it.”

Bandesha — an Aldergrove resident who has built more than 250 homes in B.C. since the early 1990s — does not understand why the neighbours are angry.

He says he is building high-quality, affordable housing for families and has seen a great deal of interest from buyers.

He has already received calls from 60 people interested in the six homes on 98 Avenue — five of which are already claimed.

One home that he built on 98A Avenue last year, which features three bedrooms and a two-bedroom legal suite, was purchased by a young family with a child who are looking to “grow a family.”

“The people love my house,” he said.

“If I wanted to build one big house and I ask for $2 million, who’s going to buy? Not a young couple, not a new immigrant, they can’t afford it.”

Bandesha also runs a non-profit group through his business, using $1,000 from every home sold in Canada to build homes in developing countries. He feels he is being unfairly vilified by the neighbours.

“I don’t know what the people are talking about, I’m not doing anything wrong,” he said.

“People think I build houses and sell. Why do I want to build? I want to build for families.”

A public hearing on the matter was held on April 11, in which 18 people spoke. Thirteen were in favour of rezoning, and five — including Bandesha — were against.

Township council will now vote on one of five options for the area, as presented in a report from March 21.

The options included leaving the area as is, changing the zoning to residential, and three other hybrids that would limit homes to one per lot.

Should council choose to change the zoning, current applications already underway will be grandfathered in, said Ramin Seifi, the Township general manager of engineering and community development.

“We cannot turn back the clock and go back … but new applications — if there are any — will be subject to the new requirements, whatever they are,” Seifi said.