Letter: Fort Langley development issues not going away

Invitation from council to Eric Woodward would be appropriate, says writer

Editor: In the March 5 evening council meeting, Coun. Kim Richter made a motion to formally invite Fort Langley developer Eric Woodward to come to an evening council meeting and give a presentation on challenges that he faced with his now defunct hotel project. At issue are the three commercial buildings and three residential houses boarded up in the core of downtown Fort Langley.

If you know the long saga of challenges faced by the developer, then there is a chance you too are frustrated by the lack of progress to solve the issues at hand. Regardless of whether you support and understand his reasons for packing in his business dealings or not, the fact remains that there is big problem that is not going away anytime soon.

Some suggest personality conflicts were at play, or that if the proponent approached things differently, or if he had compromised on his urban planning ideologies, none of this would have happened. But my opinion is, why should he?

When urban planning philosophies are so old that our new communities are still not being built walkable, why aren’t more people challenging staff to do better? Yes, in my opinion, this is a battle of wills, but I do not fault Woodward for digging in his heels. It took painting an abandoned house pink for anybody to start paying attention to the problems with development practices in the Township.

Woodward’s motivators are not monetary in nature — conceding to the unreasonable requests made by staff would have destroyed the design intent of the development. It was the residents of Fort Langley who asked for a public park, children’s playground and water play features, outdoor performance space and gardens for weddings and picnics.

Why would a dead-end lane through the middle of the development (that is neither a bylaw, nor a previously disclosed requirement), take priority over the much-needed public amenities funded by the developer?

I personally know that the concerns the TOL staff had about not having a lane were addressed: As a former employee of Woodward’s, I was a part of the solution-making process. Perhaps the solutions presented were not 100 per cent to the satisfaction of staff, but movement was in fact made by Woodward to solve the concerns.

With frustration and an unwillingness by TOL to compromise on their undocumented requirements, it was time to stop. So who can blame a guy for scaling back his business dealings in Fort Langley to minimal efforts and financial levels, when there was no indication that creative developments would ever be accepted?

Why should we expect a private citizen to keep throwing good money after bad on buildings past their lifespan, with unrepairable safety issues and some never being able to be upgraded for handicap accessiblity?

The answer of course, is that you don’t and shouldn’t expect that; That’s why buildings get boarded up as leases expire or as tenants move on.

Seven out of nine elected officials didn’t support Richter’s motion for having a formal presentation to get the story straight from the horse’s mouth. According to most councillors, they do not “summon” people. They also don’t “roll out the red carpet” for people. They also think Woodward is “holding the town hostage” and “playing games.”

They also feel like they would need to invite people before council who wanted their fence a foot higher, or to put a second trailer on their property. That’s a stretch, obviously. People’s individual residential concerns are not quite on the same scale as a whole commercial core. They also reiterated that Woodward is very familiar with the processes within the Township, thus it is his responsibility to make a delegation to them.

To that I say, each and every council member is aware of the social media drama that won’t die in Fort Langley. The name calling, the personal threats of harm to Woodward, to myself and others brave enough to stand up and be counted.

The councillors should and do know that to this day, Woodward is still criticized for how Coulter Berry got approved. One of the biggest complaints was that he went around staff and went to the council chambers to make his case.

So on the hotel development he did what was asked of him — dealt with the staff. Council and mayor only know one side of the story, the staff side. There have been closed-door meetings but there has never been one formal request by council for a face to face meeting with the proponent. Some have talked to Woodward on their own, but there are no formal and accountable meetings and minutes on record.

And Coun. Fox is correct, Woodward obviously wants to be left alone. Left alone from the constant drama, the backlash, the name calling and character assassinations. He’s withdrawn all of his proposals, removed his website, taken down social media accounts, and people still won’t leave him alone. So, no, I don’t think Woodward should make any more moves of his own volition.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think a long overdue invitation for him to speak on the matter, shouldn’t be made by council. It’s time for council to be the leaders they were elected to be, and deal with this mess head on.

The irony in all of this, was that all along, the TOL was planning major developments in Fort Langley that were in direct competition to the ideas already on the table by Woodward — mixed use commercial and residential buildings, a townhouse development, and a boutique hotel.

Not one person at TOL advised Woodward in the past two years that something similar was in the works. So much wasted time, energy and money for a private citizen and the taxpayers of TOL to bear.

These developments proposed by the Township are massive, and not one senior staff nor council member was present at the open house to answer questions about traffic increases or height variances. Perhaps TOL really doesn’t care about what happens in Fort Langley.

The birthplace of BC deserves more attention from senior officials.

Misty vanPopta

Fort Langley