Coulter Berry developer talks to Fort Langley residents

The Coulter Berry building’s second take is well underway and still drawing a lot of interest in Fort Langley.

On Thursday evening, developer Eric Woodward hosted a presentation and question and answer session about his application to rezone the site at the corner of Mavis and Glover, and about changes to the design of the building since the first project was stalled by a court decision.

The meeting, MCed by former Township mayor Kurt Alberts, saw Woodward talk about changes to the building’s design since the first version.

Outside before the meeting started, Fort resident George Otty was handing out flyers opposing the new version of the Coulter Berry building.

Otty, like many other opponents, says three storeys is too tall for the area. He’s worried it will set a precedent for the Fort.

He admitted opinion is sharply divided.

“I’ve lived here for 25 years and I’ve never seen a more divisive topic,” Otty said.

Inside, Woodward showed slides comparing the new and old designs. The new version will have nine condos on the third floor, down one from the previous version, and will still have office space on the second floor and retail on the ground floor.

“I’m not here to lay on a big thick sales pitch,” Woodward said.

He talked about how design changes will alter the facade to make it resemble a row of buildings, with each section being distinct from the others.

The new building will be environmentally friendly, with a geothermal heating and cooling system and solar panels, and will be built to LEED Gold standards, said Woodward.

“We wanted to try to respond and try to make it better,” Woodward said.

He said better architecture and site design should be used in the Fort.

“The path of least resistance, I think, is not something Fort Langley deserves,” said Woodward. “I think we should build better buildings.”

He faced a number of pointed questions from residents. While about two thirds of the audience Thursday were supporters of the project, judging by applause and a show of hands at the end of the meeting, most of the questions came from opponents.

Several of the questions centered on why Woodward wanted to build three storeys instead of two.

Woodward said that a building can cover more than 60 per cent of a site if it encloses more than half of its parking. The third residential storey was created to offset the cost of $3 million to $3.5 million of building the underground parking lot, he said. He didn’t want to cover much of the lot with above-ground parking, Woodward said.

“It would actually be more profitable to build a two storey building with a parking lot,” he said.

After that statement, many people in the audience asked why he didn’t just do that.

Others brought up the total height of the building, which at its tallest point will be 46’8” high, at the corner of Glover and Mavis.

That will dwarf residents and other buildings, several questioners said, and will be taller than other nearby buildings, including condos.

He was also asked if parking in the underground lot will be free.

The developer said that a section of the lot will be internally gated and reserved for residents and workers in the building. About 20 spaces will be public and free to park in.

Woodward was also asked if he will rebuild his other properties in downtown Fort Langley – Woodward owns several commercial properties – into four storey buildings.

“Absolutely not,” Woodward said.

A few people in the audience expressed support and wanted to know more about the condo suites, particularly the four that will be built to adaptable housing standards.

The previous application for the project was approved through a heritage alteration permit. A group of local residents took the Township to court, arguing that the rules had been violated.

On Oct. 25 last year, Justice Joel Groves handed down a judgment that set aside the heritage alteration permit that the Township of Langley had granted the development the previous November, saying it varied the lot density in an unacceptable manner.

Woodward is now seeking a rezoning, rather than a simple alteration of the heritage permit. Groves suggested a rezoning would have been acceptable in his written ruling.

The halt in construction since October has left a sizeable excavation in downtown Fort Langley, dubbed the heritage hole. 

Opponents and proponents of the building have been duelling in local newspaper letters pages, online and through Facebook, and at public meetings for well over a year.

Woodward will be hosting open houses to see the full building plans over the first two weekends in March, on March 1 and 2 and March 8 and 9, from noon to 6 p.m. each of those days, at 9209 Glover Road.

The first and second readings of the rezoning bylaws for the project were announced for next Monday, Feb. 24, which could mean that a public hearing might take place as early as March 10. Harold Whittell, one of the prominent opponents of the project, and one of the organizers of the legal action against the Township, said he was disappointed to see the Township moving so quickly. He had hoped to organize meetings in the community to publicize the opposing side.

"That doesn’t give us a lot of time to prepare," Whittell said.

A public hearing could take place as early as March 10, the next council meeting for which a public hearing is scheduled.

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