Willoughby residents question apartment proposal

A development proposal that will see seven apartments built at the bottom of the Willoughby Slope will “put our kid’s lives at risk,” Lorraine Baldwin said in an emotional plea to council at a public hearing on Monday night.

Unable to suppress her tears, Baldwin was one of 40 speakers to vocalize their opposition to the Forewest Construction development plan.

Forewest is proposing a residential development on 10 acres north of 68 Avenue between 200 and 201 Streets. It includes seven apartment buildings with 475 units, 26 townhouses, four duplexes and two single family homes.

Baldwin presented council with a petition of 252 signatures against the proposal.

“You’re going to destroy our neighbourhood,” she said.

In 2010, Forewest Construction had tried unsuccessfully to develop 607 apartments in eight buildings, and 14 townhouses.

At the public hearing two years ago, residents said the development was too dense, would put pressure on local schools and congest local streets. The same arguments were made on Monday night.

Candice Carlson, who lives on 201 Street, said she can’t let her five-year-old and four-year-old kids play outside because the traffic is too dangerous. With 200 Street already very congested, many people take the back roads at 201 Street and 68 Avenue. Motorists speed through the area, despite traffic calming already put in place. Carlson and others are afraid the new development will make this scenario even worse.

Forewest assured this is not the case. Traffic studies presented by Peter Joyce of Bunt & Associates, who was representing the developer, claim that the new development would only add one to two vehicles per minute on 201 Street during peak hours of 7-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. during the week, and 11-2 p.m. on Saturdays. Additional traffic calming on 201 Street between 68 and 69 Avenues would also help to slow down traffic.

But residents are not convinced. Density “does not make sense” on the slope, resident Kirsten Charlesworth said. The additional houses will put pressure on local schools already facing overcrowding.

The school district estimates the development will only bring in 82 children — 43 in elementary school and 39 in high school.

The numbers are “laughable,” resident Lisa Domeier said, adding that she and other residents feel they were deliberately kept out of the planning process by the developer.

Despite Forewest distributing 500 information flyers in the neighbourhood, many residents said they did not receive any notice of a public open house held last summer, and that when they did show up to the meeting they found the doors closed and locked an hour early.

In 2010, a focus group of six residents was created by the developer to get feedback on their plans. None of them  were notified of any additional meetings either, they said.

Dan Kehler, chairperson of Citizens for a Safer Township and former vice-president of Willoughby Homeowners Association, was one of those members.

He said after two meetings with the developer in 2010, they were told more public meetings would follow.

“Everything went dark,” he said. Nothing happened until more than a year later, when the open house was held.

“We were ignored,” he said.

Mr. Kim, a resident of Langley for 21 years, moved to the Willoughby Slope two years ago. He points out that there is a large Korean-Canadian population living in the area. Many wanted to attend the meeting but were not confident enough in their English. They were excluded from the consultation process as well, he said.

When Councillor Kim Richter asked why only six people were invited to initial meetings in 2010, Rob Whetter of Cotter Architects, representing the developer, said they felt a focus group would provide more insight and better discussion than a larger group.

When asked if the doors were locked early at the open house, Whetter said “I think it may have been a half hour early. We hadn’t had anyone come through the doors for about 45 minutes. It wasn’t strategic, we all had families to get home to.”

Not all residents who spoke at the public hearing are against the proposal.

CARP South Fraser Chapter, a group that advocates for seniors, is excited that the developer has agreed to build at least 25 per cent of the project to comply with the Township’s Basic Adaptable Housing Requirements, instead of the 5 to 10 per cent currently required.

The mixed housing “will fit into the community just fine,” resident Al Peterson said.

According to Patrick Cotter, architect for the project, the development is getting away from horizontal suburban growth currently seen in Willoughby. It is based on BC Smart Growth strategies, offers a variety of housing options for residents, follows sustainable building practices and includes many offsite improvements, such as wider roads.

“We’re trying to find a compromise that builds on planning principles, that builds on policy, that looks at creating a viable proposal for development that will deliver a significant list of public amenities, and to do that in a way that responds as sensitively as possible to the existing neighbourhood in the surrounding context,” Cotter said.

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