A proposal to delay a decision on a Willoughby library site until after a review of Langley Township’s Library Master Services Plan was voted down at Monday’s council meeting.
Coun. Kim Richter called for the review, saying she was prompted by the recent presentation by Fraser Valley Regional Library (FVRL) CEO Scott Hargrove earlier this month.
In December, developer Pollyco asked the Township to approve two floors of commercial space in a six-storey building planned for the 7900 block of 206A Street – the second floor of which could house a new library.
The Township hasn’t approved the plan for a new library, but Township staff and FVRL staff have been considering the idea.
But Richter said before anything’s decided, the Township should revisit its Master Library Services Plan, which was last updated in 2012.
“What we’re moving forward with now is a destination library in Willoughby,” Richter said, referring to a larger-scale library.
“I think the community-based system we have right now has served us very well,” she said. “I don’t think we need to move away from it.”
Currently, Langley Township has a number of small to medium-sized library branches, with one in each of its major communities other than Willoughby.
Other cities in the FVRL system have gone with fewer branches, or sometimes simply with one, somewhat larger central library, as in Maple Ridge.
Hargrove discussed the concept of a “destination library” in January, as a library that was larger in scope and would draw people from around the region.
Other councillors pushed back on Richter’s motion and didn’t want to see plans for a library held up for a full strategy review.
“I don’t understand why suddenly it’s some kind of emergency,” said Coun. Petrina Arnason, who is the Township’s representative to the FVRL board.
Arnason’s primary concern was that Willoughby, Langley’s fastest growing community by far, needs a library. The closest libraries are Willowbrook’s Muriel Arnason Library – named after her late mother, a longtime Township councillor and library advocate – and Walnut Grove’s branch.
Other councillors also said the need now is to consider this library, not to review the whole system right away.
“We have to make a decision about moving forward in Willoughby,” said Coun. Steve Ferguson.
“I do believe Willoughby needs a library, don’t get me wrong on that, I just don’t think we should be spending mega-millions on it,” Richter said.
The new proposed site would be the largest library in the Township. The space proposed is 12,485 square feet.
That compares to 7,070 square feet at Murrayville, currently the largest branch in the Township system.
However, adding 12,000 square feet of space to serve Willoughby would put the Township’s libraries in line with recommendations from the 2012 Library Services Master Plan.
The plan looked ahead from 2011 and suggested that by 2021, the Willoughby/Willowbrook area served by Muriel Arnason Library would need 17,942 square feet of library space.
The current Muriel Arnason Library is 5,700 square feet; adding a 12,485 square foot library would almost exactly match the 2012 recommendation.
However, the 2012 plan severely underestimated the population of the area. It projected that by 2021 there would be about 29,900 people in the neighbourhood. Willoughby had more than 37,000 people according to a 2019 estimate by the Township, and it has been growing continuously.
Most other councillors were eager to move forward with considering the site.
Coun. Eric Woodward voted with Richter, and expressed concerns that the site would be a “mediocre library” because it won’t be on the ground floor of the building, which Hargrove said was the ideal location.
Arnason characterized that as “cherry picking” as Hargrove was enthusiastic about the site, and also noted that the elevated parking lot of the planned complex will have direct entry into the second-floor library, as well as an elevator from the first floor.
Richter’s motion was defeated in six to two votes.
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