An Open Letter to Mayor and Council
Dear Mayor and Council,
On March 20, the Langley Times reported that Township staff were preparing a report for Township Council identifying Township-owned properties that could be sold to pay for future infrastructure in Langley Township. We the undersigned, are concerned about the implications of this article. Six months have passed without this staff report being made public. We write to you with the assumption that it has not yet been presented to Council.
As the article acknowledges, past and present policy with regard to the sale of what the Township has identified as “surplus property” has generated much controversy. The approach that the Township has taken appears to many to be secretive and reactive. There is an obvious need for a process with greater transparency, one grounded in sound planning.
The lands belonging to the Township are the collective property of the community of Langley. Decisions regarding the management of 'surplus properties' greatly impact the public good and will affect the patterns of future development in the neighbourhoods in which they are located. Decisions regarding the sale or retention of these lands must take a long-term view. We are particularly concerned that the ecological value of 'surplus properties' be given greater consideration.
Under the current approach, it appears that the Township has proceeded without adequately considering or informing itself about the ecology of parcels placed on the market. It has therefore been left to individual citizens and community groups to bring these issues to the attention of Council and Staff. In response to protest Township has made ad hoc corrections that have failed to address the larger problem. The danger that significant ecosystems could be lost remains.
Although heartened by the implication that the above mentioned staff report will be released to the public upon receipt by Council, there are a number of additional steps that we feel Mayor and Council can undertake.
1) Council should direct Staff to undertake consultations with stewardship groups and other environmental and community groups to assist in the preparation of the staff report. Upon completion of the staff report, it should be presented to Council and released to the public at the same time. We urge Council to authorize this action in a timely manner and to see that the completion of the report is not delayed.
2) Develop a comprehensive inventory of Township lands that would be publicly accessible on the web. In time this could include the results of ecological surveys of individual properties that have been prepared by public or private entities.
3) Prepare a comprehensive plan for the sale and retention of Township lands that takes into account the ecological value of particular parcels. The impact on Langley aquifers from any resulting destruction of forests and wetlands must be considered. The Township should commit itself to the principle that our natural heritage should not be sacrificed in the development of modern amenities.
4) Council has made it a uniform practice to invoke Section 90 of the Community Charter as a way of closing meetings of Council to the public when land sales are under consideration. The resulting lack of transparency compounds the difficulties in the issues already discussed. When a sale is well-advised, this practice hinders maximum advertising to prospective buyers, and when a sale is ill-advised it prevents the public from seeing their elected representatives debate the proposal. The public interest is thus served by greater transparency in both instances.Only exceptional circumstances can justify invoking Section 90 in the circumstance of land sales. We strongly urge Council to invoke Section 90 sparingly in the case of land sales and on a case by case basis.
5)The comprehensive plan should recognize that although a policy of selling off real estate to generate capital can have merit in some circumstances care must be taken that land worth more monetarily in the future could be lost through poor planning. Holding on to 'surplus properties' may also provide a much needed source of income in the future.
Finally, we urge Council to take these steps in a timely manner so that the ensuing discussion and debate on Council and amongst the public can begin before, and not after, the upcoming municipal election this November. We would encourage Council and staff to begin the process by meeting with community groups prior to November 1st. We would be pleased to participate in such a meeting.
Watchers of Langley Forests
Salmon River Enhancement Society
*Both groups have reviewed this letter and being convinced that the issue is an important one that should be addressed they have joined together to send this letter.