Councillors spar with developer over Willoughby shopping site

Councillors spar with developer over Willoughby shopping site

Council argued over density, mixed-use, and the definition of “strip mall” on Monday

The developer of a commercial site in Langley’s Willoughby neighbourhood said they were trying to do everything right in applying to build a single-storey retail project.

On Monday, May 25, Mayor Jack Froese had called for a reconsideration of a Pollyco development proposed for 80th Avenue and 204th Street, after it was referred to Township staff following criticism of the project from some councillors earlier this month.

Councillor Eric Woodward called it “probably one of the worst that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” at the May 11 meeting.

He and other councillors called for increased density on the site, including the possibility of a mixed-use development with housing above and shops and offices on the ground floor. Council voted 8-1 to send the project back to staff to consult with Pollyco.

Before the discussion got underway on May 25, Councillors Kim Richter and Woodward objected to the mayor’s decision to call the matter back for reconsideration.

Richter called it “disrespectful” to bring back a motion that had previously been referred to staff by an 8-1 vote.

“This wasn’t four-four, or four-five,” she said.

READ MORE: Council wants better than ‘strip mall’ in Willoughby

Hugh Carter spoke for the Pollyco Group at the meeting, conducted online.

Pollyco has been working on the design and approvals for the project for three years, Carter told the council.

Carter said the neighbourhood plan for the area is “very prescriptive,” with the site zoned for no more than two storeys maximum.

“Our feet were held to the fire in terms of [Township] staff saying ‘This is what you have to meet.’”

The buildings were designed to meet “heritage style” exteriors, with Carter noting they looked to Woodward’s own Coulter Berry building in Fort Langley as one source of inspiration.

In addition, the developers worked with the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – usually known as the Mormons – to the north, and the temple’s leadership supported the design. Representatives of the Mormon temple have in the past objected to certain designs of nearby townhouse complexes.

Pollyco also planned for two murals on the buildings.

“Staff were very happy with the outcome,” Carter said.

After the council vote, he said he and others at Pollyco were “very surprised.”

The councillors had a number of questions for Carter, with Richter wanting to know which councillors he called after the May 11 meeting, and in what order.

Carter acknowledged calling Coun. Bob Long – who had dissented in the original vote – first.

Richter continued to ask about which councillors he had called, and wanted to know if it was true he had called five of the nine members of council.

“Coun. Richter, this isn’t an interrogation,” Froese said, ruling her questioning out of order.

“I think we have the right to ask the questions we need to ask,” Richter said.

Froese said Carter didn’t have to answer, and Richter said she disagreed.

Carter also objected to the term “strip mall” being used for the site by some councillors, including Woodward, at the May 11 meeting.

“This isn’t a strip mall, it’s a village,” said Carter, noting the buildings would face the streets, with parking and landscaping in the middle and pedestrian links to nearby properties.

“It’s still a one-storey mall,” said Richter.

“Yes, and that’s what’s shown in the plan,” replied Carter.

“I do think it’s important to note you have done nothing wrong by submitting a plan that fits with the Yorkson Community Plan,” Coun. Blair Whitmarsh said.

He asked about the possibility of various higher-density options for the site, including two-storey mixed office.

There can be issues with the economics of even a two-storey project, with office space already plentiful just a few blocks away near the 200th Street highway interchange, Carter said. In addition, the entire project would have to be redesigned, with an expensive excavation for underground parking likely needed, along with elevators and changes to fire exits.

“It would be a complete redesign, contrary to what we spent the last three years proposing,” Carter said.

Woodward suggested the council would be making the project more valuable by considering mixed-use development with higher density.

“Why would you be resisting making more money?” Woodward asked.

Carter said that it isn’t always so simple – in some cases, the residential portion of a project can lose money, as happened in part of Pollyco’s development at the Willoughby Town Centre.

“The commercial is where the money was,” he said.

There was no reconsideration vote, after Froese withdrew that item from council’s agenda.

“I think it’s in our best interest, after hearing this lengthy delegation, that we ruminate on it until the next meeting,” said the mayor.

It will be somewhat longer than that until the council can again debate the project. Staff will need more time to go over all the info they’ve received before submitting a report, according to Township administrator Mark Bakken.

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