Development in Brookswood and Willoughby, the need for a recreation centre in Aldergrove, universal road pricing, the expanded development of a university district near the TWU site and demand for an arts and culture centre were among the topics debated at an all-candidates meeting held Tuesday night at the Langley Events Centre.
The 25 people vying for seats on Langley Township council on Nov. 15 went head to head in front of a standing-room-only — often vocal — crowd in the centre’s large banquet room.
Among them were the three candidates for mayor, including incumbent Jack Froese, former Township mayor Rick Green, who Froese unseated three years ago, and newcomer Serena Oh.
Hosted by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, the meeting followed a similar format to earlier debates. Each candidate was given cards bearing the words ‘Yes,’ ‘No’ and ‘I don’t know’ to hold up in response to questions. Each was also given a limited number of opportunities to speak for 30 seconds on whichever topics they chose.
(Story continues after video links – now updated with Q&A)
Responding to the question of whether they would support updating the official community plan (OCP) for Brookswood — last addressed in 1987 — the majority of candidates agreed it is necessary.
Patricia Lessard acknowledged that growth and development is needed, but said she’d like to see residents, business and property owners, developers and council members sit down and discuss the issue.
“I don’t want a situation again like we had in Fort Langley that tore the community apart.”
Many, like Lessard, called for a more collaborative approach, while incumbent Steve Ferguson described it as “not something that will be done overnight.”
“Development and growth are essential,” said Solon Bucholtz. “How we plan and execute it will be the key to a successful community.”
Karl Buchanan suggested standing committees be formed for each neighbourhood within the Township, so that residents “don’t have to navigate the myriad of council. They know to speak to their local committee.”
“Over the last term, staff and consultants worked with the community,” said Froese. “We learned we have to do a better job. This council will work toward that.”
Regarding the growth of Willoughby — specifically the Latimer area along 208 Street — candidates were divided on how or even whether it should be approached.
Jackie Mandzak said she cannot figure out how 20,000 more people can be brought into the area, when the municipality can’t serve the people who are there now.
“The real issue is it’s overcrowded, out of control,” said Live Langley candidate, Clint Lee, who characterized the neighbourhood as “ground zero.”
“We need developers to know it’s a privilege to develop in the Township — not a foregone right.”
Angie Quaale, took exception to what she said was a comparison of Willoughby with the site of terrorist strikes on New York City.
“It offends me to the core,” she said.
In response to the question of development, Quaale replied the Township needs to foster good, strong non-adversarial relationships with developers.
Incumbent Bob Long acknowledged the neighbourhood is experiencing growing pains.
Once it’s finished, it will be a walkable, complete community, Long said. “Stopping it is not the answer.”
Charlie Fox warned the situation in Willoughby could not be allowed to follow the development pattern of Walnut Grove, which he called an experiment that broke the city’s back.
“Taxes went up because we paid for infrastructure in advance. The city suffered right up to the John Scholtens era.”
“The correct answer is slow it down,” said Green.
The former mayor told the crowd he decided to run again in response to numerous requests from residents who want balanced and sustainable growth, protection of farmland and community needs brought to the forefront.
“Without proper infrastructure in place, we’re devaluing the community,” said Bucholtz. “We’re seeing people leave Clayton because of lack of infrastructure.”
While saying the “failed experiment” of Clayton should serve as a warning to Willoughby, Mel Kositsky, who served six terms on Township council before losing his seat in a bid for the mayor’s chair three years ago, said “the solution is to manage growth, not stop it.”
“I’ve never seen a community where schools and infrastructure are in place, then you decide to build houses,” said Blair Whitmarsh. “Population brings infrastructure; we’re on the right path.”
“Infrastructure should be paid for as development goes in,” said incumbent Bev Dornan. “In Walnut Grove, they thought the same thing and now it’s the place to be. Willoughby will be the place to be, it just takes time.”
For Kevin Mitchell, it’s a question of priorities. He pointed out that the meeting was being held in a new $60 million recreation facility, while just down the road, overcrowded schools are surrounded by portables.
“Do you want schools or entertainment centres?”
Something all candidates could agree on, however, was the need for a recreation centre and swimming pool in Aldergrove. However some suggested the current plan doesn’t meet the scale the community wants and deserves. Residents have asked for an eight-lane 50-metre pool, while the current plan is for a six-lane, 25-metre pool.
“The plan needs to be revisited,” said Petrina Arnason. “Aldergrove should get a pool, but they should get the pool they want.”
While incumbent David Davis supports the construction of a pool, he doesn’t see the need to add an ice rink.
A centre should be built in stages, he added. “We can’t just put it on taxes — we need to get creative.”
“Aldergrove has been underserved for years,” said Dave Stark. “It’s a no-brainer in my mind.”
“Aldergrove has been short-changed for years,” agreed Ferguson. “We need to get them their fair share at the table.”
“We should move forward as soon as possible,” said Oh.
Kerri Ross said the issue has been mired in double talk, with current council members “spinning their wheels” and using the promise of a recreation centre to get them into their next term.
When candidates were asked whether they support an expanded university district for Trinity Western University within the ALR, incumbent Michelle Sparrow said the issue is a clear-cut no.
“We should not be developing urban development on rural land. I can think of five developments that happened in the last term. If council was firmer, we’d have more farmers farming land and less developers speculating on it.”
“It’s important to have places to move to on non-viable farmland,” said incumbent Grant Ward.
Any housing that is built won’t be student housing, noted Kevin Mitchell. “We can’t afford to take more land (out of the ALR) . . . they’re not making any more dirt.”
Froese noted that the land had already been approved for non-agricultural use when he took office three years ago.
“I don’t support the growth of business or institutions onto agricultural land,” said Arnason. “TWU has expanded in an urban environment, which is appropriate” she said, referring the Langley university’s planned new Richmond campus. “It should stop there.”
On the subject of an arts centre for the Langleys and whether they would be willing to work with the City to see one built, even if it were to be located in the City, candidates were again divided.
Zosia Ettenberg replied that it doesn’t matter where an arts and cultural centre is located as long as people can get to it.
“I would strongly support the building of a cultural centre. It’s been a dream of mine since I moved to Langley.”
“We shouldn’t squabble about where it is,” said Lessard. “Let’s bring it home. We need it.”
Incumbent Kim Richter, however, said if there is to be an arts centre in Langley, it should be located in the Township, preferably adjacent to the LEC.
“Our experience in past partnerships with the City have not always been good,” she said.
Asked whether they favoured a universal road pricing model to fund the region’s transportation system, candidates were divided.
“I’ve yet to hear a proposal that is effective for rural south Langley,” said Fox. “Any tax that will add to the burden of people in the community will not meet my threshold.”
“I’m not in favour of adding charges to Township people until we receive a level of transportation service close to the money we’re putting in,” said Green.
Buchanan, meanwhile, suggested increasing transportation costs should be paid through a straight increase in sales tax.
Regarding the question of whether they would support term limits, candidates were divided.
Dornan, who is seeking a third term, said democratic elections are, in effect, term limits.
“If they’re not doing the job, you can vote them out.”
Asked whether business owners should be allowed to vote in the community where their business is located, if they do not live there, Lee said he found the question “repugnant.”
The basis of the democratic process is one person, one vote, said Lee.
“Live in the Township if you want a vote.”
Quaale, who recently moved her business from the City to the Township, disagreed, arguing that businesses contribute a great deal to a community and should be represented through a vote.
“I’m more for vote swapping,” said Whitmarsh. If someone wants to vote in the community where they own a business, they should give up their residential vote, he said.
For candidate Scott Nichols, this election is about wholesale change.
“After a period of litigation and unrest, it’s time to change the direction the Township is headed,” he said. “We need fresh ideas. It’s the reason lots of us are up here.”
Other topics discussed during Tuesday’s meeting included flood plain management, secondary suites, lack of parking in high-density developments and rising salaries of municipal employees.