An estimated 175 to 200 people turned up for the Town Hall meeting with Langley School Board chair Wendy Johnson, Township mayor Jack Froese and MP Mark Warawa on Saturday.
While many were there to ask general questions of the politicians the main focus that afternoon at the Aldergrove Kinsmen Community Centre was definitely on the matter of the proposed plans for the Aldergrove recreation centre. An open house on the recreation centre coincided with the town hall meeting and contributed to its turnout.
A Township spokesperson said that for the pool open house on Nov. 17 there were 210 people who signed in and 192 surveys were completed.
There were also 36 people signed up on PlaceSpeak, with an additional 21 completed surveys on-line so far. This on-line input is ongoing and the public can register their opinions at www.placespeak.com/aldergrovecommunitycentre until Nov. 30.
There will be another Aldergrove Recreation Centre Open House on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 7 to 9 p.m., in the Aldergrove Community School Library, 26850 – 29 Avenue.
The town hall meeting was moderated by Langley Times editor Frank Bucholtz, who grouped the recreation centre questions together for Froese to answer during the last half of the meeting, so that Johnson and Warawa were able to speak on the other questions.
Those questions ran the gamut from federal environmental policies to the issues of schools planning for the western growth area of Willoughby.
In response to a questioner who was “not happy with Stephen Harper’s ideas on the environment” Warawa replied that “if the climate is really warming (Harper said” we have to get all the major players together on a new agreement beyond Kyoto.” This agreement was hammered out in Copenhagen and has broadened global participation from 20 per cent to 85 per cent, Warawa said.
As to whether there would ever be a bypass to take traffic around Aldergrove, Froese replied “not in my lifetime,” citing the constraints imposed by the National Defence lands on the north and the Agricultural Land Reserve on the south.
On the matter of special education services, Johnson said that a recent Supreme Court ruling in North Vancouver case “will impact the way we meet special needs” and governments won’t know “until we look at the implications.” She added that in the interim the provincial government has allocated special needs funding, including $1.8 million to Langley school district.
On the question of the Township’s proposed sales of surplus properties in Glen Valley and why the Aldergrove rec centre funding is dependent on sale of this acreage, Froese said it was “a council decision not to go to the taxpayer for the $35 million.” He said that three lots were already withdrawn from sale and negotiations continue with the group which wishes to preserve the other five lots. “We will work with you and we’re prepared to be creative, out of the box… that story is not written yet,” said the mayor.
On the planning of new schools, Johnson said that Langley expects to hear the education ministry’s response to Langley’s plans in January. She noted that the province acknowledges that the Willoughby, Surrey and Sooke areas are the three high growth areas of the province and “I am optimistic that at least two of the three projects we’ve identified will be approved… and the MLAs support us too.”
Froese added that the new Lynn Fripps school is the first to be built here with community use facilities included in the original construction, and he noted that provision for portables makes sense to accommodate fluctuations in populations.
In response to a suggestion that the federal government was cutting social programs in order to build more prisons, Warawa simply said, “No.”
Tolls and other transportation levies also came under fire, with one man suggesting that new vehicle levies replace other revenue sources. Froese said that this is an issue governments have been wrestling with for many years, adding that, “It’s difficult to add new taxes, they are unpopular. A vehicle levy has been shot down, twice, by both NDP and Liberal governments.” Froese added that as vehicles become more efficient, gas taxes will continue to dwindle and new revenue sources will be sought.
A suggestion that Aldergrove contributes more in Township taxes than it receives in services was disputed by Froese, who noted that more than $80 million is being spent on bringing regional sewage and water lines to Aldergrove and Gloucester Industrial Estates.
Proposed new Township fees for secondary suites were also defended by Froese, who argued that the fees would be lower than most municipalities and would enable inspections and compliance. “The number one issue is safety, it’s the most important reason for it, and there is always a cost to that.”
At this point the discussion was turned over to the rec centre proposals, which Froese noted were still open to input and debate in the community. He said that while the Township is committed to starting on construction in the new year, council also wishes to ensure that the finished project will meet the needs of the community for generations to come.
He said that the Township was only able to purchase the former Aldergrove Elementary school site to meet the social needs of the community, not for resale to developers. He said the almost-five acres were centrally located and of sufficient size to centralize swimming pools, an ice arena, library and other amenities such as a workout gym. This would allow for co-generation of energy for the pool and ice arena, and together with centralized staffing, would significantly reduce operating costs.
Under this plan, the existing arena property would be sold for redevelopment as housing and the existing community centre and library would be leased out for potential use as a daycare. Froese noted that the arena property was not large enough for all these services and the previous plans to place the pool at the community centre would take away two valued sports fields. (Excerpts of Froese’s responses to these questions are on video at www.aldergrovestar.com)
A number of residents remain opposed to relocating the arena. Aldergrove Heritage Society spokesman Erik Simonsen says, “Aldergrove has an excellent ice rink and there is no need to level it and build another.”
Simonsen says the former school site should instead be offered to Langley Centennial Museum as a satellite location, from which it could offer touring displays which the museum currently does not have room to exhibit.”
Rob Robinson, who along with wife Maureen owns the Milsean Shoppe adjacent to the existing arena, is concerned that they will lose a lot of business from arena users if it is moved. He is worried that the site will also sit idle and undeveloped for many years, as has been the case of the former Aldergrove Centre Mall property, which was supposed to have been redeveloped as seniors’ housing several years ago.
Coun. Bob Long, who chairs the mayor’s standing committee on the Aldergrove recreation centre, says redevelopment of the arena property as condos would generate millions of dollars, needed for the construction of the rec centre.
Long also said that he’s heard no one come out in favor of the second option, which has a small indoor leisure pool and a 25-metre lane pool outdoors. However, he said he prefers the layout of the second option and he believes that covering the outdoor pool is a potential third option.
This would move the pools and arena to the southern side of the property, allowing landscaping and open parking around the heritage school building, which would be converted into the new library. Long noted that the Township’s library plan calls for expansion of the Aldergrove library to 7,600 square feet, which is roughly the size of the heritage building.