R.E. Mountain Secondary students play some soccer on the Willoughby fields which have been a hot topic among user groups. Field allocation is still in discussions.

R.E. Mountain Secondary students play some soccer on the Willoughby fields which have been a hot topic among user groups. Field allocation is still in discussions.

Turf wars erupt over Willoughby fields

One user group is upset while many others understand the pressures on such a busy field.

Two of three major youth sporting groups have expressed support for the Township of Langley’s field allocation policy in regards to Willoughby Community Park, but a third group is not happy, and members have sent numerous letters stating their case to Township councillors.

The concern is over what have been deemed High Occupancy Dates at the Langley Events Centre in what is now being called the Arts Sports and Entertainment District.

“It is brutal. We helped pay — we put over $300,000 into building those (fields) — and now we are being told we can’t use them because of parking,” said Amy Read, the president of Preston GM Langley FC.

“It is not even because someone else is using those facilities, it is because of parking spots.”

HIGH VOLUME DAYS

There are 21 High Occupancy Dates currently on the calendar, and while rumours have circulated that this is because of the Vancouver Giants arrival in Langley, the Township is denying that.

“It is all in the process of our field allocations and field allocation policy with regard to how we co-ordinate with the needs of user groups to the available fields that we have. The confusion around the Giants is inaccurate,” said Peter Tulumello, the Township’s acting director Recreation, Culture and Parks.

He cited other high-volume days such as Family Day in February, or in March, when the high school provincial basketball championships are staged over consecutive weeks, as examples of how busy the LEC and Willoughby Community Park can get.

What they are trying to do, he said, is maximize the limited amount of parking on those high demand dates.

Some of that is being accomplished by finding alternate fields for groups to use.

NEW DESIGNATED DROP OFF ZONE

Another change has been the creation of designated drop-off zones so parents can drop their child off at their respective field. Parking has been made available at a nearby church as well.

But while Preston GM Langley FC is upset, two other groups have spoken in support of the field allocation policy.

“What we need to do as an organization is work with our members to control and contain our parking footprint so that we can retain our soccer usage on the grounds and not infringe on other overlapping associations,” said Langley United president Marcel Horn.

“We are working together to understand worries and stresses and work together to hopefully create a long-term viable action plan.

“We have to play a part in this and show we can work as a membership and work with the other (groups).”

The Langley Field Lacrosse Association has had some practices moved to alternate fields, but have not lost any field time overall.

“Right now, I have no complaints,” said Langley Field Lacrosse president Alex Vanichuk.

“My impression from Township, is they are going to work something out. We, as Langley Field, are happy because they have done something.”

Another artificial turf field at Yorkson Creek is set to open later this month, which could help alleviate some of the field usage issues.

“We are trying to look at what options are available to accommodate as many groups as we can at the Events Centre,” Tulumello said.

“It is a growing community and all these organizations that have these needs. It is all about working with our user groups and not pitting one against the other.”

When Read spoke to the Times two weeks ago, she said her group had not been in contact with anyone from the Township.

Tulumello said they did speak on Sept. 29 but Read could not be reached to verify that.

Several Township councillors also weighed in on the issue at their afternoon meeting on Oct. 3, where they commended Tulumello for Townships staff’s work in trying to solve the parking situation.

EMAILS WERE VICIOUS, SAYS FOX

“I think there were some pretty vicious emails sent to council over the past week with regards to this, and I guess what I’m wanting to make sure comes out of this, is that we don’t run into this situation again,” said Coun. Kim Richter.

“It doesn’t seem very fair that one group is claiming that another group is getting favouritism when they’re not. And I just think that is a very unfair allocation,” she added.

Coun. Charlie Fox said he has attended three of the Giants home games so far, and has witnessed all areas of Willoughby Park and the LEC continuing to function properly.

“I, too, was a recipient of many emails, as most of us were. I found them, to be honest with you — having worked in local sports areas since 1984 — some of the cases to be quite offensive, accusing me of collusion, accusing me of making sure that one member of council’s job was looked after at the expense of others, and so on and so forth,” Fox said.

He believes council was “ahead of the curve” by allocating funding to build the extra parking spaces at the former Gibbs Nurseyland before the puck ever dropped at the first Giants game.

“I’ve got to say, that I believe staff has to be commended in this situation. You reached out to the groups, you’ve met with the groups. We didn’t hear from LUSA … I have not heard a word from field lacrosse — the largest growing sport in the province of British Columbia using fields — and we haven’t heard a word from them. Obviously they’re satisfied.

“Forget this petty politics, forget putting kids in the middle, forget getting emails like we got.”

STAFF PRAISED

Both Coun. Angie Quaale and Mayor Jack Froese echoed Fox’s comments, praising staff for their work.

“I just wanted to commend staff for their efforts and for being as proactive as you were with this,” Quaale said.

“I just want to say thanks again, I think staff did a great job, and you know, it’s something new in our community where it’s a good problem to have, having successful Willoughby Park and a successful Langley Events Centre where people want to be there and we have the task of finding where they are going to park their cars,” Froese added.

“It’s a problem, but there’s solutions and I really appreciate you looking for those solutions and working with all the groups. Thank you.”

with files from reporter Miranda Gathercole