George Otty was the first of more than 40 people to speak on the proposed demolition of almost a dozen buildings in Fort Langley. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

Fort Langley residents launch passionate debate over demolishing buildings

More than 40 people spoke at a meeting Monday evening

Langley Township councillors will ponder the fate of almost a dozen buildings in Fort Langley’s downtown over the summer. That follows Monday night’s hearing, in which dozens argued forcefully for or against their demolition.

More than 40 people spoke at a hearing on a heritage alteration permit – required to demolish buildings in the central core of Fort Langley.

The buildings are owned by Statewood Properties, the company of Councillor Eric Woodward, who left the council chambers before the hearing and debate because of his interest in the land. Woodward announced last year that the lands are to be transferred to the Eric Woodward Foundation, with profits from their future development to benefit local charities.

The structures include several houses southeast of Glover Road, a cluster of businesses around the Gasoline Alley area, and the former site of Jim’s Pizzeria, and they range from substantial two-storey dwellings to small sheds. All have been boarded up since at least last year.

None of the buildings are officially heritage structures, and most were built between the 1940s and ’50s.

But those opposed to the demolition permit argued that the buildings are a part of the Fort’s history and look.

“There is a lot of heritage value here, and in my opinion, it cannot be ignored,” said George Otty.

He spoke of the connections between some of the houses and Billy Brown, the early pioneer for whom a major Fort street is named.

Soo-Jean Yee noted the former Lamplighter restaurant began as a pool hall built by Lal Singh, another Fort pioneer. Other buildings to be demolished served as general stores, barbershops, and a post office, she said.

“I’m fearful that development is going down a dangerous path in Fort Langley,” said Damian Hind, another resident opposed to the demolition.

“We’re not against development at all, it just has to be sympathetic development,” said Karen Hind.

The character of the overall streetscape was a theme that came up many times.

“Once those buildings are gone, so is that streetscape,” said Janine Twist. “It is never coming back.”

While a majority of those who spoke were against the demolition, a sizable group spoke in favour of it.

“I truly believe that every building, every home has a history, but it doesn’t necessarily make them historical,” said Lorraine Braddell.

She was one of several people, including at least two former Statewood employees, who spoke about the poor state of the buildings.

The community needs to recognize heritage, but move on from “buildings that have outlived their time,” said Gary Sawatsky.

“These buildings are old and dilapidated,” said John Allen, suggesting three to four storey buildings replace them, with a mixture of commercial and residential units.

What will replace the buildings, if council approves the permit, is unknown. The proposal right now is to create grassy areas open to the public with some picnic tables.

Woodward had plans for redevelopment of the sites, but withdrew them after failing to come to an agreement with Township staff over several isues on the design of the sites.

READ MORE: Buildings boarded up in impasse over development

Several times, Mayor Jack Froese had to warn speakers to avoid veering into criticism or praise of Woodward. He also cautioned the audience, with partisans for each side applauding or booing several times during the meeting.

Council could have made a decision immediately after hearing from the last of the speakers, but by then the meeting had run to almost 11:30 p.m. and council had been meeting for nearly 12 hours.

Councillors decided to put the matter off to September, after the summer break, giving them more time to think about the mass of verbal and written submissions they received.

“Another six weeks is not going to end anything, and will allow council to make a good decision,” said Coun. Blair Whitmarsh.

“I think we need to sit down and review,” agreed Coun. Steve Ferguson.

Although there is a single demolition permit being sought for all the lots, Coun. Bob Long raised the possibility that council will consider them in three sections, based on location and type of building.

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