With the news on June 24 that the Township of Langley had purchased the Alder Inn building and two neighbouring properties for $5.4 million, the reaction was understandably mixed.
On the one hand, you had many people who were happy to see the adult entertainment portion of the business go and saw it as a new start for Aldergrove.
On the other, there were folks who were unhappy with the decision for various reasons, with one of the main issues being the fact that the Township had now set the precedent of buying property to close establishments they don’t approve of.
Whichever side of the argument you fall on, one thing that can’t be argued is that the taxpayers now own very prime real estate in the middle of Downtown Aldergrove, which many people agree is due for revitalization and growth. The Township has spent taxpayer dollars to acquire prime real estate in an area that has been in need of investment, and now that $5.4 million has been spent to acquire these properties, this author believes they should be put to good use.
There are options for what the Township could do with the site, but there is only one that is bold enough to secure future revenues that the Township could put towards affordable housing and also get Aldergrove the growth it deserves.
With this option, the Township keeps ownership of the land and through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, partners with a developer who specializes in rental construction to construct a mixed-use development. The partnership would entail Township offering a 99-year lease on the site to the developer, while retaining ownership of the land itself, similar to how the University of British Columbia has developed their University Endowment Lands.
While the Core Area Plan calls for buildings up to five storeys on the site, for the agreement to work, it would have allow the developer to build appropriate but more density on the site, perhaps up to eight storeys, in exchange for also constructing retail units on the ground floor. Another perk of this option is that the current restaurant could continue to operate in the new building, if the owner so desired.
The revenues from either the retail units or a portion of the residential units would be paid to the Township of Langley on a yearly basis, with the proceeds flowing into the Langley Affordable Housing Fund (LAFH) that will finally be set up in accordance with the Official Community Plan from 2016. With a steady supply of revenues now flowing into the LAFH, the Township could look to create the same arrangement with other properties it owns across the municipality, and then begin to use the funds in the LAFH to either incentivize the construction of affordable housing, or build it themselves.
The reason this option is the most interesting, besides all the reasons listed above, is that our community sees desperately needed rental units built. While they might not be the “affordable” units that are accessible to every single income bracket, they would offer badly needed supply in a market with a vacancy rate below two per cent.
As many builders will explain, the main reason few rentals are built is because it’s extremely difficult to make a profit on them. A huge part of this is the high cost of land, so by offering builders adequate density on land they didn’t have to buy outright, there is likely to be interest in partnering with the Township on such a project.
Let’s hope the Township acts with vision on this occasion. It’s in all of our best interests.
Michael Pratt, Murrayville