Friday, January 04, 2008

Vecchiato's Voice - Jan 4, 2008 - People Pleasing & Planning; A Delicate Balance

Planning is a tricky business, and is rather like being a school principal where your position is to appease parents, teachers and school board all at once. It is the ultimate job for people who can set limits with people. People please and you're burned out in a year.

The will to please all parties is off kilter, however, in the Township of Langley. Most noticeably is the recent approval of high rises that slid in under the last minute wire prior to Christmas holidays. Major decisions in December and in the summer when many people are absent tend to host the most contentious issues with an outcome already decided. Case is point is the preliminary Campbell Heights Open House held in August over 5 years ago (BC almost seems to shut down in August, as Europe is rumoured to do).

Although planning did revise some of the by-law in the past month, the final version did fly through with only two abstentions: Councillors Richter & Bateman. Personally, I am not against high rises as long as they are buffered from single family homes or townhouses and that we as a community get something in return. Undoubtedly, the development community was pleased with the by-law and Smart Growth would applaud. But what about addressing the loss of this temperate rain forest's biodiversity, wildlife habitat, narture pleasure it brings to us each season, and more current and perhaps critical, offsetting carbon emissions to achieve an element of neutrality. However, by placating the development crowd, the local residents and the taxpayers end up scuffing their heels, disgruntled, unheard.

The time to hash out amendments to each neighborhood plan is now, and a mandatory application of bonus density is the solution. Bonus density is a development formula assigned by the Local Government Act. According to the document, the purpose of allowing high density and leaving green space in return is so that 'amenities obtained should benefit the area where the development is located. Increased density can result in higher numbers of people who place higher demands on community amenities, such as day care or open space. The amenity is provided to maintain or improve existing community livability and quality of life in the area that takes the higher density.'

In the past, when bonus density has been used, the bonus areas have not been in the general vicinity of the development, but in the far reaches of the township where land is cheap. Earlier in 2007, a developer proposed donating playground equipment instead of land for green space. The tragedy, I believe, is that council even considered this proposition, which makes me wonder if they understand the issue at all. With high density and the ensuing bonus, land cost will not matter. What matters, I believe, is the quality of life for residents. So few amenities for the myriad new townhouses and single family homes on the hill are available. Even the construction of the future Sportsplex is an example of excavation excess and neglect. The amount of land cleared far surpasses the square footage building and parking needs. It seems easier to build if you clear everything first. But decision makers need to see there may be more benefit to retention than demolition.

Surrey estimated that 50,000 trees have been lost to development interests. One resident pointed out that 'little sticks and ornamental shrubs that developers throw in are not adequate replacements for our magnificent urban forest(so).'

Perhaps a better incentive is to consider the three parties with a vested interest in any development: the property owners, the developers, and the community.

Recently, the Langley Times devoted half a page to the issue of battling greenhouse gas emissions. Frankly, I don't care if you are an Al Gore fan or not. Case in point is: cars, trucks, heating, among others, all increase CO2 or CO2 equivalents (a.go. methane). Journalist, Al Irwin mentioned the ability of trees to offset carbon, which could very well provide an incentive rather than punitive measures as suggested in reports in the Vancouver Sun.

Small trees such as streets trees and the numerous species planted in new front yards have little capacity to absorb a vast amount of CO2. One study showed that nine ornamental trees offset 1/3 a tank of gas per year. However, a 147 cm (58”) diameter tree holds 3206 kilograms (7,068 pounds) of CO2. Most of the conifers in Brookswood and the Milner escarpment, for example, are far larger than a mere 147 centimeters. A 231 cm (91”)-diameter western red cedar in our yard has the capacity to store 2,686 kg (5,919 pounds) of carbon and 734 Kg (1,614 pounds) of carbon dioxide. The average car, according to the EPA spews 9 pounds of carbon and 33 pounds of CO2 into the air each day, so the invisible labor of a single tree or an entire forest is worthy of approbation.

Our yard is host to approximately 40 trees of varying species, with western red cedars being the most prominent. In the 10 years we have lived here, our quarter acre is becoming an island amid cleared properties. Although the Brookswood Tree By-law was an excellent example of excluding the public's input (the committee's recommendations were not the foundation of the by-law), the need for a bylaw could become obsolete by giving incentives for preserving second-growth trees, both conifers and deciduous.

You cannot please everyone all the time, and this ushers back the dilemma of people pleasing. A good school principal will take each party's concerns into account and try to compromise. My experience is that little compromise on behalf of residents has occurred, except in cases where taxpayers were notably vocal (the sale of township land to the Baptist Church, for example). I don’t think Township needs to totally abandon some of its modus operandi, but to soften it with the blessing of compromise may provide political longevity, a method to neutralize carbon dioxide, and even more promising, development that doesn't raze the landscape but lets the landscape do the work.

Cathleen Vecchiato has been an outspoken environmentalist for many years. She is a very well recognized champion of the environment and a community activist in Langley as well as in other adjoining communities. Cathleen formed and leads the Langley Conservation Network. Editor-LFP...

No comments:

Post a Comment