Close vote, but petition passes

Bylaw will approve removal of utility poles and cable, electricity and phone wires in Fort Langley

The petition to approve burying utility poles and wires in Fort Langley’s commercial core has narrowly passed.

On Oct. 15, Township council gave first three readings to a bylaw approving the removal of the utility poles and cable, electricity and phone wires.

The Local Area Service (LAS) petition acquired the backing of 51.5 per cent of the owners of commercial property on Glover Road from just south of 96 Avenue to the northern most commercial properties on Glover Road (including the Township-owned Bedford House restaurant building). The area also covers half a block of Mavis Street to River Road.

The other Township properties are the northeast corner of the Bedford Landing property, and 23353 Mavis Street.

The petition is the initiative of the Fort Langley Business Improvement Association whose president is Eric Woodward. Of the 33 properties in the LAS, three are owned by the Township.

“They were excluded from both the voting and total numbers calculated to ensure that it’s the property owners who make the determination,” administrator Mark Bakken said.

Of the properties remaining, Woodward owns 12. He and the owners of five other commercial properties supported the petition.

The area affects the 16 units of Heritage Manor, a building within the commercial zone. It has two storeys of residential suites and a row of shops and businesses at ground level.

Addressing council on Oct. 15, manor resident Ray Keller told council that the bylaw gives no benefit to Heritage Manor residents.

He also feared that if the services are buried underground, it will cause a huge disruption to merchants for many years.

“Most people have no idea that the sidewalks will be torn up for six to eight months,” Keller said, adding that the work will be “very disruptive.”

The financial burden on the residents who will likely pay through a special levy administered by the strata council may prove onerous. Several are seniors on a fixed income, Keller said.

He told council that everyone in the village should have been notified because the LAS area “is the heart of Fort Langley.”

Woodward urged council to act swiftly to take advantage of low interest rates for the project which will cost the benefiting property owners $3 million, and Township taxpayers $1 million.

In an email to The Times, Heritage Manor resident Mark Forsythe said that the initiative of the Fort Langley BIA “came out of the blue for residents, with no consultation or opportunity for input.”

Now, he said, residents are faced with an unfair financial burden that should be borne by commercial interests.

For some, it will mean several hundred dollars a year extra tacked on to their property taxes.

“This could very well price people right out of the neighbourhood — some of these people are on fixed incomes. All for the sake of a beautification/gentrification project,” Forsythe said.

Janis Ryder, Heritage Manor strata council president, said that the majority of Heritage Manor residential owners “are very distressed by the process that has been used regarding the introduction of this ‘beautification’ initiative in addition to the prospect of having to pay levy fees for something they see no practical benefit in.”

Woodward called the prediction that the work would take one year “fear-mongering.”

“There will be disruption, but not on the scale that people are saying.”

Calling it an anomaly that residents have to pay for something that benefits commerce, Councillor Bob Long persuaded council to pass first three readings with the proviso that the Township pursue measures to soften the blow for Heritage Manor residents.

This could include delaying for one year the startup of annual payments, and finding funds that will reduce their costs or eliminate  them altogether.

Council had considered delaying the levy until after the sewer levy expires in 2017.