A Township of Langley councillor tied to several Fort Langley properties says he’s disappointed council has delayed their demolition, warning they could remain standing empty for years to come.
On Monday, council voted to delay the demolition of 11 buildings owned by Statewood Properties and have been sitting boarded up since 2017.
Coun. Eric Woodward claimed the properties will be transferred to the newly-created and non-profit Eric Woodward Foundation after he was elected to council in 2018. The foundation had proposed turning the properties into public green space as an “interim solution” while redevelopment plans are pursued.
But Mayor Jack Froese and most councillors said they should see the full development plans before proceeding with the demolition.
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Council also unanimously passed a new motion asking staff to explore the possible relocation of some of the buildings to save them from demolition.
Woodward, who was elected to council in 2018, recused himself from the vote and an earlier public hearing to avoid violating conflict of interest rules.
In an email exchange with Global News, Woodward said the decision means the buildings — all of which sit on or near the downtown core of the village on Glover Road — could remain boarded up for “at least” another five years.
“I am not sure residents are really aware of what Mayor Froese and council decided, and confirmed will be Fort Langley’s near-term future,” Woodward said.
According to Woodward and outlined in the foundation’s submission to council in July, development applications for the sites on Glover Road will likely not be delivered for “many years.”
He also said preparing that application would cost “an additional $150,000-$200,000, perhaps more.”
The foundation says development first needs to be completed on further properties owned by Statewood between Glover Road, Mary Avenue and Church Street, before the other buildings on Glover Road can be redeveloped.
Further, Woodward argued this week it “makes little sense to design or apply now for the second site, without a firm timeline to proceed.”
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Staff at Monday’s council meeting said a development application was delivered to them last month for the other properties, but has not yet been seen by council or the public.
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Many councillors appeared to be taken aback by the news of the application, which staff said is being reviewed and won’t be presented to council for at least six months to a year.
But Woodward said the mayor already knew about the application after meeting with foundation board members on Friday, and accused Froese of waiting until Monday to alert council as a “setup.”
“With an application, the Foundation was trying to be responsive to some members of the public wanting to know that development was intended,” Woodward wrote in an email.
“That good intention seems to have used by Mayor Froese and Council as a bizarre justification to delay the demolitions of the permanently derelict structures indefinitely, rather than solve the problem.”
Froese told Global News Thursday he did learn about the application on Friday, but wouldn’t comment on Woodward’s allegation.
“That’s one person’s opinion and I can’t comment on that,” he said.
“Council does its business at the table, which is why I waited until then to alert them by having staff confirm it. That’s how business is done.”
Froese said he still hasn’t seen the application.
The mayor also challenged Woodward’s charge that council was allowing downtown Fort Langley to remain in “partial dereliction,” saying it’s up to Woodward to improve the properties.
“He owns the buildings, he can fix them up and do whatever he wants with them,” he said. “It’s up to him.”
The battle over the future of Fort Langley dates back to the previous council, when Woodward applied to redevelop the properties along Glover Road, Mary Avenue and Church Street and build a boutique hotel and other mixed-use developments.
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The applications hit a roadblock when council requested Statewood Properties include an emergency lane to allow for first responder and municipal service access. Woodward withdrew the proposals altogether instead of altering them.
Blaming government red tape, Woodward began boarding up the buildings in 2017. He also painted some of them pink.
The township’s Heritage Advisory Committee has since ruled the buildings, many of which have stood for decades, do not qualify for heritage protection status.
The Eric Woodward Foundation argues the buildings were boarded up gradually in response to several issues, including alleged drug use inside at least one building, and rodent and insect infestation in others.
Woodward said this week the foundation will likely have to increase security around the boarded-up buildings to counter squatters and drug activity.
He also promised a more complete statement after the foundation meets next week to discuss the issue further.
— With files from Julia Foy and Erin Ubels