A series of buildings in downtown Fort Langley that have been boarded up for years could be turned into a mix of residential and commercial space.
That’s according to a development application obtained by Global News that was submitted to Township of Langley staff in September by a foundation tied to a sitting councillor, who has been attempting to redevelop the area for years.
The application concerns some of the 11 buildings owned by Coun. Eric Woodward’s Statewood Properties, which have been sitting empty since 2017.
Woodward has promised all the properties — which sit on or near the downtown core of the village on Glover Road — will be transferred to the newly-created and non-profit Eric Woodward Foundation beginning in 2019 now that he sits on council.
According to the documents, Statewood is hoping to transform the properties between Glover Road, Mary Avenue and Church Street into 41 apartment units and 35,414 square feet of commercial space.
The application also asks council to approve increasing the allowable height of the development from two stories and nine metres, or 29.5 feet, to three stories and 13.5 metres, or 44.3 feet.
The residential building would sit along Church Street, and would include ground-floor apartment units if fully approved by council.
The commercial space would extend from the residential building to Mary Avenue and around the corner. A second commercial building would occupy a corner lot on Mary Avenue and Glover Road, with the building extending south along Glover Road for less than a block.
The same documents were submitted to township staff shortly before a council meeting in September, where an application to demolish all 11 buildings was debated and ultimately rejected.
Some councillors appeared taken aback after staff revealed the development application existed for the Glover-Mary-Church properties, which is still being reviewed and isn’t set to be presented to council for up to a year.
The demolition application was rejected over council’s request to see the full redevelopment plans for all the properties before demolishing them.
In an email Friday, Woodward — who recused himself from the September council meeting to avoid conflict of interest — said the development application was submitted to “give the community comfort that the (Eric Woodward Foundation) Board’s plan is indeed to attempt redevelopment.”
He acknowledged it could take at least two to three years, if not longer, for the application to be approved after it receives input from the township and the public, which will likely lead to revisions to the plans.
As for the additional properties along Glover Road, Woodward repeated earlier statements that development plans are not forthcoming.
“There will be no application for the Glover Road West site for many years given the cost and uncertainty, and the need to plan for relocation of those tenants,” Woodward said.
Woodward had earlier said the buildings could remain boarded up for “at least” another five years as a result. The demolition permit had offered to turn the sites into public green space as an “interim solution” as redevelopment plans are pursued.
Council also unanimously passed a new motion at the September meeting asking staff to explore the possible relocation of some of the buildings, which have been standing for decades but do not have heritage status.
On Saturday, Mayor Jack Froese said he doesn’t have a problem with the application for the Glover-Mary-Church properties itself and is open to all ideas for updating Fort Langley — so long as it doesn’t impede on the town’s character.
“All towns go through an evolution as they grow and as time goes on, and we’re no different,” he said. “We do have protection, this is a heritage conservation area … so there are guidelines that anyone who builds here has to follow.”
That protection could give the township the power to force Statewood Properties or the foundation to restore the boarded-up properties until redevelopment is approved. But Froese says he doesn’t want to start a battle between council and the development community.
“We’d rather work with the property owner than start enforcing bylaws,” he said. “I think we want to have that relationship with our property owners.”
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.
The applications hit a roadblock when council requested Statewood 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.