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Council bends to residents over sale of Glen Valley forest

Gene Park,right, with his granddaughters, from left: Laura Park,12, Cassidy Gallagher,13, Kansas Gallagher, 10, Anna Park,9, and Julia Gallagher,14 ride in the forest at 84 Avenue between 252 and 254 Streets. On Monday, the Township backed off plans to sell the land to raise funds for a community centre in Aldergrove.  - submitted photo
Gene Park,right, with his granddaughters, from left: Laura Park,12, Cassidy Gallagher,13, Kansas Gallagher, 10, Anna Park,9, and Julia Gallagher,14 ride in the forest at 84 Avenue between 252 and 254 Streets. On Monday, the Township backed off plans to sell the land to raise funds for a community centre in Aldergrove.
— image credit: submitted photo

The controversial sale of 21 acres of Township-owned forest in Glen Valley has been scrapped.

The Township had planned to use the proceeds to fund the purchase of the Aldergrove Elementary school site on which it

proposed to build a community centre.

At the start of Monday's marathon regular evening meetings, Mayor Jack Froese said that after hearing from residents who opposed the sale to private interests, council decided to withdraw the sale.

Township Mayor Jack Froese assured that council "is making every effort to preserve the natural integrity" of the property, which is situated on 84 Avenue, between 252 and 254 Streets.

In a closed meeting on Monday afternoon, council voted to withdraw three lots from the sale process, and assess them for their historical designation, environmental sensitivity, heritage value, and overall park needs in the area, Froese added.

Eight parcels totaling 45.84 acres were originally listed for sale. The proceeds were intended to purchase the Aldergrove Elementary School site for the construction of a new community centre, swimming pool, and ice rink.

When three Glen Valley residents addressed council on June 25, the meeting erupted when Councillor Steve Ferguson interrupted Stuart Bucholtz, one of the most outspoken critics of the land sale. Ferguson demanded that Bucholtz respect the five-minute limit imposed on speakers.

Bucholtz had spoken for just over six minutes.

When Ferguson admonished Bucholtz, Langley City resident Jacob de Raadt began to clap loudly, which spurred others in the gallery to follow suit.

One councillor suggested that de Raadt be warned about his behaviour, or even barred from council meetings.

Given the potential for further outbursts, the Township asked for security, and brought in two uniformed RCMP officers who stood by the main doors to the chamber on Monday night.

“This community centre is a priority project for the Township and the people of Aldergrove,” said Froese, so other ways of funding the project must be found.

He challenged Glen Valley residents to help with fundraising initiatives, and some residents, including Bucholtz, offered support for the idea.

"By taking these lots off the market we will have a shortfall of two million-plus dollars . . . I appreciate the work that the organizers of this campaign went to and I now challenge them to channel that energy into a fundraising campaign to find the funds to help with the  Aldergrove recreation centre, and allow Langley Township to retain these lands for future generations."

Froese said that the Township will continue with the sale of the other five lots totaling 25 acres, located near 84 Avenue and 260 Street.

He revealed that the bidding process on those properties, which closed June 29, were too low.

“Those bids have been rejected and staff will negotiate with the highest bidders to try to obtain a price in accordance with council policy and appraised values,” Froese said.

“This is good planning, good development for Glen Valley and Aldergrove,” the mayor said, adding that the property "meets all of the Township’s social, cultural, economic, and environmental goals that are laid out in our Sustainability Charter.”

“We have achieved a balance between urban growth and the protection of farmland, open spaces, and environmentally sensitive areas,” said Froese.

The 21 acres fell into the Township's hands in the 1930s as a result of a property tax sale. The parcel consists of one five-acre lot and two plots of eight acres each. The parcels are within the Agricultural Land Reserve while those which the Township still intends to sell are outside the ALR boundary.

The decision to sell the land, which locals called McLellan Park even though it is not a designated park, was made by the previous council in September, 2011. Because that decision, and Monday's vote to axe the sale, was made behind closed doors, it is not known which council members supported the sale.

The sale, resident Petrina Arnason wrote in a letter to council, clearly deviated from the Sustainability Charter.

She pointed out that the charter is intended to create a vision of the community to meet, among other elements, the environmental needs of current residents while ensuring that they can be met for future residents.

Another resident, Larri Woodrow, noted that the description of the heavily wooded property posted on bcbid.com, declared that there were "no trees of interest."

He called this "a major error or major deception."

Froese ended his comments regarding the sale by stressing that council's goal is "to achieve a balance between urban growth and the protection of farmland, open spaces, and environmentally sensitive areas."

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