Land controlled by the Eric Woodward Foundation could become part of the Kwantlen First Nation’s reserve, the band announced this week.
Kwantlen First Nation, the KFN’s business arm seyem, and Fort Langley Properties and the Eric Woodward Foundation announced a land and economic development partnership for three acres on two sites in the downtown core of Fort Langley.
“These two development sites will be added to existing Kwantlen First Nation reserve land holdings through the newly-streamlined Additions to Reserve (ATR) Process overseen by the Government of Canada,” said a press release from the KFN. “The partnership group will then develop these properties as part of a long-term lease agreement.”
“Kwantlen has been growing tremendously in capacity and working tirelessly to promote meaningful partnerships within our territories for the next seven generations,” Chief Marilyn Gabriel said in a statement, calling it an amazing step towards reconciliation that will help strengthen the Kwantlen economy.
“This is a monumental step forward in adding the Kwantlen First Nation as a true economic partner within the commercial core of the village of Fort Langley,” said Woodward.
Woodward was asked if the plan to transfer the lands to KFN authority is a way of building what he had planned, without interference from Langley Township.
“A reasonable question, for sure,” said Woodward. “But, in short, no.”
Woodward said they could have proceeded with development at any time in a way that was profitable for the foundation, or “waited for the climate to change.”
“Also, I do not see the Township of Langley’s bylaws as ‘interference,’” Woodward said. “We were not subject to ‘bylaws’ but instead a series of political attempts to compromise our private property rights, as we have seen with the refusal to allow us to even remove buildings without any heritage value whatsoever.”
Fort Langley Properties is to be the leaseholder on the lands, funnelling any profits back to a charitable foundation or local non-profits.
Work is underway on the process to transfer the land will include dialogue with the Township of Langley, nearby First Nations, and a referendum for approval by the Kwantlen First Nation membership. The process can take three to five years, but Woodward is hopeful it can be done faster because of the “relative simplicity” of this application.
If the land is transferred, it will mean it is no longer part of the Township of Langley.
“First Nations are a higher level of government than municipalities,” Woodward told the Langley Advance Times. “When land is added to reserve, it is then within the federal land registry no longer subject to municipal authority, or taxation. Tax revenue would be levied by and submitted to the KFN. Under this alternative governance structure, approval for development comes from the KFN.”
The properties in Fort Langley have been the subject of some controversy. Woodward has been seeking to redevelop two major sites in the downtown for several years, but had come into conflict with the Township over site design, and the projects never came to a vote of the council.
Many of the buildings have been boarded up and vacant for more than a year. An application to tear down the buildings and leave the sites as greenspace until redevelopment took place was turned down by the Township council last year.
Woodward won election as a Township councillor in 2018.
Woodward announced he was transferring ownership of all his downtown Fort properties to a non-profit charitable foundation, the Eric Woodward Foundation. Fort Langley Properties was formed to complete the economic development, and is legally bound to donate its profits back to the Eric Woodward Foundation or other local charities and non-profits around Langley.