Four meetings and two adjournments later, the public hearings into the controversial redevelopment of land near Trinity Western University finally came to an end on Monday, April 15.
There were only four speakers at the final hearing. The matter is expected to come back to Township council for a decision.
All of them were against the proposal to amend the Rural Plan for the three properties at 7645 and 7679 Glover Road, and 22423 Labonte Cres. to create a “University District” of housing, along with some commercial development to serve the housing.
Those who spoke were also opposed to the separate, related application to build 67 compact residential lots on the 153-acre Wall property, located at 22415 72 Ave., which is seen as part of the university’s vision to increase student and staff housing.
Two community groups who boycotted the hearing created a stir during the afternoon session of council that preceded the public hearing.
The Fort Langley Community Association and the Salmon River Enhancement Society sent letters to register their opposition to the Wall development proposal, saying they saw no point in sending representatives to participate in the April 15 public hearing because they believe council is ignoring community input.
“We no longer feel that attending public hearings and having council ignore our input is a suitable investment of the time of volunteers who reap no monetary benefit for the many hours they have contributed to this community,” said Doug McFee, director of the Salmon River Enhancement Society, who emailed a copy of the letter to The Times.
McFee cited council decisions on a number of issues as examples, including the Willoughby Forewest development, the Coulter Berry building, and the first version of the Wall and TWU public hearings.
Connie Blundy, chair of the Fort Langley Community Association, made the same complaint in her email.
“We have chosen to forward our position as a written submission so as not to spend our time lining up to speak to the issue before council, given this council’s recent history of adjudicating recent submissions by largely ignoring the community input at public hearings,” Blundy said.
Blundy cited the same projects McFee did.
She said council decisions following public hearings “must demonstrate some congruence between the majority view and a predictable result.”
Mayor Jack Froese and a majority of council objected to the letters, saying that just because the groups didn’t get their way doesn’t mean council was ignoring them.
“I can’t speak for anyone else, but I certainly do listen,” Mayor Froese said.
“It’s sad what they’re saying and absolutely untrue,” Councillor Bob Long said.
“Somebody should write to these folks and explain how the public hearing process works,” Long added.
The mayor agreed.
“They obviously don’t understand public hearings,” Froese said.
Councillor Charlie Fox bristled at the tone of the letters, calling some of the comments “offensive.”
Councillor Kim Richter said the writers were “angry” because they had come to council “en masse” only to have council go against their wishes.
Councillor David Davis said the remarks were because the community groups were “annoyed and upset.”
The last postponement of the TWU hearing was announced in February to allow further clarification of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) position on the proposal.
A Jan. 30 letter from the ALC said the commission concerns “remain largely unchanged in that the [university district] bylaw still contemplates a use of land in the ALR that is not permitted under the Agricultural Land Commission Act …”
An April 3 memo from the Lidstone and Company law firm said the Township had asked the firm to “explain the [Jan. 30] letter.”
The one-page note from lawyer Don Lidstone said the Township was not asking the ALC for approval or consent, only comment on the proposal.
Lidstone said even though the the university plan “expressly” says none of the farmland in the proposed district would remain agricultural and would not be changed without ALC permission, the commission “does not support” the proposal.
Lidstone added the memo was “not a legal opinion, but merely a summary of the information available to the Township on [the] topic.”