Langley Township council has approved the controversial sale of Township-owned land in Glen Valley to help fund a new community centre, swimming pool and ice rink in Aldergrove.
The decision to sell four parcels of land near 84 Avenue and 260 Street was made during a closed-door meeting Monday and announced at the end of the evening session of council by mayor Jack Froese, who read out a prepared statement.
"This decision comes after hearing much input from the community, from people passionate about preserving these lands," Froese said.
"With this decision, we feel we have struck a balance between retaining environmentally significant land that residents have shown is a much valued resource and the need to raise funds for a new recreation centre for the community."
Froese said the Township will keep all of the parcels to the west along 257A Street while authorizing the sale of the four lots to the east along 260 Street.
Froese noted the decision comes after council cancelled a proposed sale of 21 acres along 84 Avenue, between 252 and 254 Street known as McLellan Forest
"Nearly 50 acres of Glen Valley land will be retained, and approximately 20 will be marketed," Froese said.
Two of the lots will be sold right away, while the other two will require improvements and remediation work before they are sold, the mayor said.
The unsold land, described as the "treed portion of the former gravel pit site" will total 25 acres, more than half of the total property, Froese said.
Remediation work will be done to the unsold property where necessary and council may consider designating it as parkland in the future, Froese added.
The Township later released a statement saying there is no "old-growth forest" on the land it plans to sell, along with an aerial photo of the former gravel pit on the site.
While the Township waits for the sales to proceed, it will use money from surplus funds and reserves, as well as short-term borrowing "of less than five years" to fund construction of the Aldergrove Community Centre.
The decision is a defeat for the recently-formed Watchers of Langley Forests (WOLF), a residents' group that has been campaigning to preserve the entire property.
WOLF condemned the decision in an online statement posted to their blog after the decision was announced.
"The Township is presenting this as an acceptable compromise," the statement said.
"It is not. The forest is a whole ecosystem and must be preserved as such. When you lose half a forest in size you get something less than half a forest."
"This is not any kind of balance that respects the environment. This is lip service."
WOLF Vice chair Kirk Robertson said the fight to save the full forest wasn't over.
"We're not going to take this lying down," Robertson said.
"The provincial government needs to get involved in saving this property."
WOLF was trying to raise $3 million to buy the Township-owned land in Glen Valley to prevent its sale to developers.
In December, the group had to admit defeat, telling Township council that they found "passionate support" for preserving the forest but only a small amount of donations."
WOLF said while most of the government agencies they approached agreed the site should be preserved, none had the money to do so and one, Metro Vancouver, has a policy against buying property for parks when the land is publicly owned.
Another campaigner for preserving the property was disappointed at the news, but Susan McCaslin said it was still a "victory for conservation. "
McCaslin, a Fort Langley poet and retired professor, was involved with a pro-conservation concert of more than 40 Langley Fine Arts high school students inside McLellan Forest in November.
"The parts they’ve decided to keep are nearer the roadway and full of older trees, but the ones they’re selling are closer to the river and quite ecologically rare and sensitive, with many older trees as well," McCaslin said in an email issued after the Township announcement.
The lands being sold may contain "species at risk and endangered species" McCaslin said, adding she would continue to press for preservation of all the land.