EDITOR’S NOTE: In a written response to this story from his lawyer, Eric Woodward states he is not a member of the township’s Heritage Advisory Committee, did not vote on the decision, and has not acted unlawfully or unethically in his position as a Langley Councillor in connection to matters affecting his properties.
Residents and business owners are growing concerned about the future of historic Fort Langley, which may be under threat thanks to promises of redevelopment.
Eight stores and houses that have stood in the town centre for decades have been sitting empty since 2017. All of them are owned by developer Eric Woodward, who bought them up with plans to demolish them for mixed-use properties.
But Woodward isn’t just a developer — he’s also a sitting councillor for the Township of Langley.
That has critics charging Woodward and the township with conflict of interest, saying the history of Fort Langley isn’t being taken into consideration.
Not only that, the empty stores have given off the impression that the area is closing up for good, when business owners say that’s far from the case.
“It’s affected the feel in the town,” said Leah Chevallier, owner of the Chuckling Duckling Farm.
“We even had customers calling to see if we were still in business because they heard the rumour that Fort Langley was just shutting down. So it’s cause for concern.”
Jasmine Marjanovic, who has owned Cranberries Naturally for 20 years, said the overall mood within the town has soured.
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“People had their favourite restaurants, their favourite stores. The dynamics of the traffic flow changed,” she said.
“People don’t want to leave their homes and go somewhere where there is negativity and sadness. They want to go somewhere positive, because they want to escape their own problems, you know?”
The Fort Langley Community Association says taking away the buildings altogether would further damage the historic reputation of the town.
“The one-word description that we have for Fort Langley is ‘quaint.’ So by taking down these buildings, you’re ending up with three-storey larger detached buildings that will destroy the nature of the community.”
Schildhorn says the association has received several letters and phone calls from residents and visitors alike voicing concerns about the development proposals and the closed businesses.
Who is Eric Woodward?
Woodward was elected to council in 2018 after spending years pursuing developments in the community as the head of Statewood Properties and the Eric Woodward Foundation.
He shuttered the properties on Glover Street in November 2017 after running into trouble obtaining permits from the township, which he blamed on a “bureaucratic can of worms” in an open letter at the time.
Council had argued a lane was required for emergency access and loading, which Woodward fought against.
The letter, which was posted to his Facebook page and distributed to some Fort Langley residents, also took issue with the way his proposals were being portrayed by critics in the media.
“Rather than debate the proposals, or try to understand what is really going on … they conduct whisper campaigns, alarm tenants, lie, distort facts, quote me out of context, and attempt to destroy my character,” he wrote.
Woodward didn’t make himself available for an interview Saturday.
In an email, he said the development permit that covers the demolition and green space restoration for the planned project has been reviewed and unanimously approved by the township’s Heritage Advisory Committee.
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“It was unanimously adopted by them and recommended for approval by council,” Woodward wrote. “I think this speaks for itself.”
But heritage advocates say the committee may not have given the buildings as close a look as they deserve.
“I couldn’t believe that none of those buildings have heritage value, so I did a little digging and it’s simply not true,” George Otty said. “They just panned over all these buildings and said, ‘Take them all down.’
“My fear is when the city went to this group to give input they didn’t have all this history we uncovered. They need to take another look.”
A public hearing is scheduled for July 22, when the development will be up for debate and discussion.
In the meantime, residents and owners say the future of Fort Langley is at stake.
“I’m very passionate about Fort Langley, and I think we need to do what’s best for Fort Langley, not just one person,” Marjanovic said.
—With files from Julia Foy and Erin Ubels