When is a tower too tall?

The housing-crisis and the scarcity of land is moving cities to green-light high-density communities across the region. But are people ready?

By Joti Grewal | June 24, 2022 |5:00 am

Plans to build what would have been the Fraser Valley’s tallest tower will not be moving ahead, but a massive transit-oriented community next to Highway 1 in Langley will still be one of the most-dense developments in the valley.

The growing population, the housing-crisis, and a scarcity of land are moving cities to green-light high-density communities across the region. But the failed proposal for a 45-storey tower shows there are limits to how much people are willing to accept.

Last week, Vesta Properties held a groundbreaking ceremony for The Towers—Langley’s first residential high-rise buildings, 26 and 34 storeys tall. The latter building will be the tallest tower in the valley. The structures are part of the developer’s massive, 74-acre neighbourhood under construction just south of Highway 1 along the 200 Street corridor. When complete, it will be home to more than 4,000 people.

Vesta also has plans for an even taller tower. Or, it had plans.

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The company recently applied to rezone a piece of the property on the corner of 200 Street and 82 Avenue. Vesta hoped to replace two planned low-rise condos with a 45-story high-rise, as well as a two-storey restaurant.

But the company has now abandoned that idea, Vesta president Kent Sillars told The Current.

“Right now, the third tower is effectively dead,” he said.

In the future, Vesta could decide to sell that land or resubmit an application for a third tower. But Sillars doesn’t expect that to happen.

Planning for Latimer Heights began a decade ago. Part of that process required applications to the city, public information meetings, and approval from council. In 2018, the first set of homes were listed for sale. During the last five years subsequent phases of the project sold out.

Vesta first went to the city with its application for the 45-storey tower about a year ago. The new building would replace two low-rise condos in the development, adding about 90 more units. The idea had been developed amid a red-hot housing market and followed overwhelming interest in The Towers. Sillars estimates there were 2,000 people interested in the nearly 500 units.

But when Vesta told the public about its idea last month, many of the buyers became upset about the scale of the building. Janet Von Siemens was one of them.

Von Siemens spoke to The Current before Vesta announced plans to halt plans for the 45-storey building.

“There are two towers that were in the original plan, but they’re on the north side,” she said. “I purposely purchased away from that, so that I could overlook the pond and the four-storey rooftop townhouses that are being built.”

Von Siemens moved into her top-floor, south-facing unit in September. The 45-story tower would have been in her direct view.

The view from Janet Von Siemens' balcony from her home in Langley's Latimer Heights development shows some townhomes are still under construction. Photo credit: Janet Von Siemens
Janet Von Siemens view from her balcony would have overlooked the now failed 45-storey tower. The proposed high-rise would have been built on a two acre property bordering 200 Street, adjacent to several townhomes currently under construction. 📷 Janet Von Siemens

“They were given the approval for the 26- and the 32-storey towers. That’s great,” she said. “But to put this one thing in the middle of all these six-storey buildings, to me, it’s gonna look like a big middle finger. And it almost is, from the developer, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just like a big f-u.”

Nearly 1,200 people signed a petition opposing the new proposal.

Sillars said the company decided to curb the third tower after being “inundated with negativity.”

He acknowledged there was less consultation than preferred, but said Vesta wanted the project to get to council before work slowed heading into the fall election.

“We didn’t have enough time to educate the public and do what we normally would do with such a progressive idea, I suppose,” Sillars said.

The Latimer Heights development intersects two neighbourhood communities: Latimer and Carvolth. Previously, Vesta sought approval from council to amend the Carvolth Neighbourhood Plan to increase the building height from 18 to 32 stories to accommodate the two high-rises at the corner of 86 Avenue and 201 Street. The new 45-story tower would have also required changes to the Latimer Neighbourhood Plan, where the maximum building height is currently 12 stories.

Even without the tower, Latimer Heights is the largest development in the history of the Langley Township.

The $1.6 billion project features a mix of commercial, office, and residential housing types ranging from single-family to high-rise apartments. The 74-acre site includes 2,000 units, 50,000 square feet of commercial, and 100,000 square feet of office.

The project is anchored by Latimer Village, a transit-friendly community with small shops and 17 acres of green space. It includes a park, trail system, a pond, and soon, a new school.

Outside the billion-dollar design, the appeal is in the location. It’s walking distance to the Carvolth Exchange—a major bus loop and Park and Ride, where commuters can make connections to the SkyTrain and West Coast Express. Its position on 200th Street is also favourable to commuters who drive into Vancouver or Fort Langley.

Building such communities is difficult and growing more so, Sillars said.

“We have 31 contiguous pieces of land that we acquired over 10 years, a long time ago,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would be very difficult to do.”

Simply put, there’s no land.

Some large and dense developments are nevertheless finding their place in the valley.

In 2020, Abbotsford council approved 879 units of housing on a five-acre site in the centre of town, near the Sevenoaks Shopping Centre. The development would see the construction of a series of towers, one 30-stories tall.

And in the last decade, Canada Lands Company has been redeveloping what was Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack. More than 1,700 residential housing units—including single-family homes, townhouses, and increasing numbers of condos—have been built across 153 acres.

“In the old days, you put in 200 single-family homes, 20 years ago, but that would be of course, not acceptable,” said Sillars. “Now, they’d be a terrible waste of land. So the pressure on the land planning process now in every city is how do we make better use of it.”

Now, the future of the cancelled tower’s two-acre site is unclear. But 200th Street is still earmarked for high-density development, and Sillars said it could just be a matter of waiting on the community to warm up to the idea.

“The Latimer project in general has changed, basically the face of the entrance to Langley there on 200th. So it’s game on, and now the whole planning momentum is for higher density on 200th.”

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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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