Council Update - April 4th, 2023
It may have only lasted an hour and a half, but the April 3rd Regular Meeting of Council was a major milestone for this new Council: the 2023 Budget and Five-Year Financial Plan was approved by Council in an 8 to 1 vote. This was in addition to the vote and passing of the Streamside Protection and Enhancement Clarification amendments which led to robust discussions over the last few weeks. Also approved were the User Pay Utility rates for 2023, which are certainly impactful to the bottom-line of the Township’s thousands of households. On a bittersweet note, the approval of the ‘200 Street 2040’ Terms of Reference (TOR) was delayed, as Council voted to refer the TOR back to staff to expand the size and scope of the new plan from 400 meters in either direction from 200th Street to 800 meters. I’ll go into further detail below about why this is in fact a very positive change, but first, let’s discuss some development applications.
Early on in the meeting, Council reviewed a Development Variance Permit Application for two adjoining properties in Fort Langley. The applicants were looking to vary the minimum lot width prescribed by the residential zoning bylaw that applies to the sites in order to subdivide their two lots into three, thus creating one additional lot. A Neighbourhood Character Study was provided (this is Fort Langley, after all), and in the end, Council voted unanimously to approve the variance to allow the subdivision to occur.
200 Street 2040
Next was the vote on the ‘200 Street 2040’ Terms of Reference. As mentioned above, Council voted to refer the draft TOR back to staff to increase the distance from 200th Street that is captured within the study. This, in my opinion, is a very positive change, as it will help to create a more cohesive vision for what is our most vital corridor. It might sound like an exaggeration, but 200th Street is Langley Township’s Granville Street. It’s our West Georgia Street. It’s our Champs-Elysees. That might sound silly, but that’s the scale of transformation I can imagine for the corridor. With the new 800-meter distance, we can capture more of the areas that are within walking distance of future rapid transit, and finally create the urban core that the Township is missing. I was sad we didn’t approve it today but am very glad the decision was made to delay it so that we can improve it.
Donna Gabriel Robbins Park
Council then voted on pre-approving $2,100,000 in the 2023 Capital Budget so that we can finally move forward with completing the park facilities at Donna Gabriel Robbins Neighbourhood Park that’s adjacent to the elementary school of the same name. It’s also within immediate walking distance of Willoughby Town Centre, and these park facilities will provide desperately needed recreation and park space for the residents who live in a dense urban area. We cannot keep asking people to live in homes with little or no backyards without giving them “public backyards” in the form of parks, both passive and recreational.
We then moved on to the other Development Applications on the Agenda. The first had its vote deferred until the May 1st Meeting of Council so that members of Council could receive more information prior to a vote. The second application was for 36 townhomes at 80th Avenue and 197th Street on the Northwest corner. This application was approved by Council and will result in over $360,000 in Community Amenity Contributions.
2023 Budget and Five-Year Financial Plan
From there, we moved onto the most important part of the meeting’s agenda: the 2023 Budget and Five-Year Financial Plan. Unfortunately, based on the systems we have in place, Council was only given the final copy of the proposed budget on Thursday. Over the weekend I dove into it and had several questions I needed answered before voting one way or the other. I’ve attached the video of the entire Council meeting below, but the discussion and debate on the Budget starts at 16:36 and ends at 52:52. More specifically, you can find my questions about the budget and how we are doing things differently compared to previous Councils between 18:06 and 27:05, with my final comments and thoughts before voting from 33:42 and 37:23.
The biggest change we have made as a Council for this budget compared to those in the past is that instead of approving individual projects now that we will complete over the term, we have created Capital Budget envelopes that apply for one year. These envelopes mean that at any point between now and the next budget cycle, Council could decide to approve and initiate any given capital project, as long as there is available funding in these envelopes. The envelopes can be found on page 170 of the agenda, starting under the heading ‘Capital Plan’ under Revenue. This gives us much more flexibility, but also more uncertainty, since we could spend up to the amount allowed in the envelopes, spend none of it, or spend somewhere in the middle.
Now perhaps the most important piece of all of this discussion is the property tax increase for this year. When we began the budget process at the start of this year, staff were projecting an increase of over 7%. Through diligent work, they managed to bring it down to 4.92%, which would be one of the lowest increases in the entire Lower Mainland. This property tax increase helps cover the increases in costs associated with inflation, with the removal of the COVID restart grant, and other factors that come with running a massive organization. It’s important to note that the proposed capital plan for 2023 did not have an impact on the tax increase, as the envelope for proposed borrowing is only used as a last resort if the other budget envelopes cannot cover the costs of capital projects we might be undertaking. After a long and very robust discussion, the 2023 Budget and Five-Year Financial plan was approved, as were the User Pay Utility Rates for this year.
Streamside Protection and Enhancement
Lastly, the Streamside Protection and Enhancement clarification amendments were contemplated. There has been significant concern expressed by a number of residents and local organizations that the proposed changes would make it easier for developers to destroy sensitive habitat and endanger our local ecosystems. As someone who has a deep appreciation for the vital wetlands and watercourses that spread across our community, these concerns resonated with me, and so I asked for a meeting with staff to discuss the changes. After my discussion with staff, which included our own Qualified Environmental Professionals who work inhouse, I felt confident that the changes proposed would allow the Township to deliver badly needed community projects, as opposed to being a gift for the private sector.
The clarification amendments would simply create a separate municipal definition for the types of watercourses that wouldn’t require Provincial or Federal permission to work with. In effect, the amendments now codified in municipal bylaws are something that was already codified in Provincial and Federal laws, and now means that we can proceed with projects without unnecessary delays. While the language of the changes is complex, the impact is simple. The amendments were passed by a 7-2 vote of Council.
And that’s it! There was a lot packed into a short meeting, and now the next phase of work begins.
Thank you if you've read this far! For the next Council Update, I'm thinking of including a short review and link to one of my favourite books on the topic of urban planning. There are so many great resources out there when it comes to planning and how we shape the urban world around us, and I want to share them with you so that we can all demand better. I have a lot of books in my 'Little Urban Library', so could provide a short review/link to a different book every update. Is this something you'd be interested in? Let me know below.
Include a book recommendation: