Langley Township is planning to spend more than $85 million on land for schools, parks, and roads, but the plan can be blocked if 10 per cent of local voters sign a petition against it.
On Monday, Township council voted in favour of three measures to borrow for various future land acquisitions and park upgrades.
The projects include:
• $1.919 million for McLeod Athletic Park upgrades
• $16.39 million to buy multiple properties, including a 2.5 acre site northeast of the Langley Events Centre off 80th Avenue and properties in Aldergrove’s downtown core
• $67.67 million for a strategic land acquisition near the LEC and in the Smith area of Willoughby, expected to include a 36-acre park
The majority of councillors were in favour of the spending, describing it as an investment.
“We are planning prudently, for the future,” said Councillor Eric Woodward.
The need for more parkland, particularly in Willoughby, was one reason Mayor Jack Froese cited for the borrowing.
“We can’t continue to keep building condos and townhouses without these green spaces,” he said.
The ever-rising cost of land was a factor.
Township administrator Mark Bakken was asked about historical land costs.
He noted that Willoughby 10 years ago saw land sell for about $400,000 to $500,000 an acre, five years ago prices had risen to $1 million an acre, and it’s now in the range of $2 million an acre.
Even with the recent slowdown in housing sales, prices for raw land aren’t dropping.
“We’re seeing people holding their properties, waiting for the market to return,” Bakken said.
Coun. David Davis acknowledged the loans were for large amounts of money.
“It is going to put our taxes up,” Davis acknowledged. “But if we don’t have something [land] there in two, four, five, seven years, where are we going to put a school?”
Some of the lands will eventually be sold to the school district, recouping some costs, councillors noted.
Council was not entirely united behind the plan.
“Excessive borrowing like this is not living within our means,” said Coun. Kim Richter.
All three borrowing measures were approved with Richter and Coun. Petrina Arnason opposed.
The borrowing, despite low interest rates, will have an impact on taxes, according to Township staff reports.
The first two measures, totalling $18.3 million in borrowing, could result in a 1.3 per cent tax increase.
The report on the $67 million did not include an expected tax increase.
Richter noted that voters have an opportunity to overturn the plan if opponents of the borrowing can gather enough signatures.
Under provincial law, municipal governments can’t borrow for terms of more than five years without giving voters a chance to veto the loan.
Because these loans are for between 20 and 30 years, if 8,545 voters in Langley Township fill out and return an Elector Response Form to the Township clerk by 4:30 p.m. in the 30 days leading up to Nov. 29. Each of the three borrowing chunks could potentially be the target of a petition against it over that time period.
Ads will be placed in local newspapers letting residents know about the petition process.