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Langley mayors react to Eby’s housing vision

Provincial rule changes could affect many single-family lots in Langley
Langley Township Mayor Eric Woodward and Langley City Mayor Nathan Pachal. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley’s single-family neighbourhoods could see some changes this year as the provincial Housing for People plan rolls out, including duplexes and triplexes springing up.

Announced on Monday, April 3 by Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, the plan calls for a number of changes to the way housing is permitted and built in B.C.

One key change, planned to be introduced in legislation this fall, will essentially end single family zoning in many areas of B.C., allowing three to four housing units per lot.

That could mean a single-family home with a basement suite and a laneway home, or it could mean existing homes being replaced by duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes.

The new rules are very likely to apply to Langley, said City Mayor Nathan Pachal.

“They’re probably looking at where there’s large growth in the province,” he said, meaning that the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, southern Vancouver Island, and parts of the Okanagan are all likely to fall under the new regulations.

In Langley Township, Mayor Eric Woodward said there could be impacts on municipal services.

“We have to be a bit concerned about what these rules may cause,” he said.

Would there be enough water and sewer connections, schools, and other vital amenities if population was to grow rapidly in existing neighbourhoods like Brookswood or Walnut Grove.

Woodward said he would have preferred a policy that would focus on new construction, where he said communities like the Township and Surrey can create greater additional housing supply much more quickly. Woodward pointed to Willoughby, which is booming and adding a large number of five- and six-storey condo developments as well as townhouses.

The province could assist with speeding up that new construction and help local governments like Langley and Surrey add amenities faster, Woodward said.

However, he also said he was skeptical that there would be rapid change in existing single-family neighbourhoods, whether in Langley or in Vancouver, Burnaby, or other communities.

Many of the changes contemplated by the promised new legislation are partly in the works in the City already, Pachal said.

A year ago, the City put a pause on new residential development south of 50th Avenue, pending traffic and parking studies, input from local residents, and the creation of a “best practices” document for building new residential projects along the 200th and 208th Street corridors.

The temporary hold was put in place after the first major row home development proposal was received for 208th Street near 45A Street, in the Uplands area.

Now the consultation and work on a new plan is wrapping up.

“We’re hoping to present something this summer,” Pachal said.

The City has already been looking at allowing up to three units per lot, such as with the model of primary home, secondary suite, and a coach home or garden suite.

He notes that’s much less density than the approximately seven townhouse units that can fit on a standard City lot, and which have replaced older single-family homes in several areas over the last few years.

Low-density infill allows for more people while preserving older trees on existing lots, the mayor said.

One thing the province could that would help municipal governments deal with increasing infill density is to look at how development cost charges (DCCs) are collected.

Those fees are collected from developers for their projects, and are meant to pay for necessary civic amenities – everything from new roads and sidewalks to street lights and parks.

But the province’s rules on what can and can’t be paid for from DCCs can be restrictive, Pachal said. He notes that a municipal government can use DCCs to pay for a baseball field, but not a tennis court, or for drainage systems for a spray park, but not for the spray park itself.

Taking a good look at reforming DCC rules would help cities pay for the parks and other amenities they need with a growing infill population, Pachal said.

“The devil’s always in the details,” said Pachal.

He’s hoping that the Housing for People plan will see the province collaborate with local governments to create a win-win situation for housing.

The province has also pledged to speed up the processing and permitting for construction of new homes through the Housing Supply Act, brought in last fall.

By mid-2023, the province plans to have housing targets established in eight to 10 fast-growing municipalities.

Woodward said the new council, elected in October, has already put through significant reforms, requiring less extensive planning work before builders get municipal approval for a project.

The goal is to reduce the entire process down to six to nine months on average, from the current two to three years, said Woodward.

The Township is also focusing on density along 200th Street in Willoughby, with a new plan for the whole corridor in the very early stages.

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Pachal said even if the City scrapped all zoning rules, there would still be limits on how fast development projects could be processed.

There still need to be people to go over the blueprints and inspect buildings to make sure they’re being built safely, for example. Training more people for those roles can’t happen overnight.

And actual construction takes time, too.

“Are there enough skilled trades to build homes?” Pachal said.

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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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