After two full evenings of heated debate for and against the Coulter Berry building in Fort Langley, Langley Township council gave the project the green light with a 7-1 vote in favour, with only Councillor David Davis opposed.
The public hearing was heated with many speakers and submissions, stretched the hearing over two nights. The Tuesday meeting didn't wrap up until close to midnight, after council had a lengthy debate about the large project.
Fort Langley has been split into two camps: Those who are for the Coulter Berry building, and those who are against it.
This was evident at the public hearing on Monday night, where residents and business owners crowded the Fraser River Presentation Theatre to make their opinions known, forcing the hearing to be extended to Tuesday night.
With 54 speakers on the list and more than 200 written submissions given to the Township, the building, proposed by local developer Eric Woodward for the corner of Mavis Avenue and Glover Road, has become a heated controversy.
Those who support the project wore bright green "yes" stickers on their shirts at the public hearing and decorum was often broken by people from both sides who chose to ignore rules and applaud for addresses they agreed with.
The Coulter Berry property is located within the Heritage Conservation Area of the Fort Langley Community Plan and is subject to the Fort Langley Building Facade Design Guidelines that were put in place in 1993. In order for to building to be constructed, a heritage alteration permit had to be approved by council.
Lotte Elias, a Fort Langley resident of 40 years, calls the building a "monstrosity." She, and several other residents, say it is too large for the corner lot where the IGA once stood, and will take away from the ambiance of the village.
At 43.5 feet tall and three storeys high, Coulter Berry is 14.5 feet over the height limit of 29 feet and two storeys. It also has a lot coverage of 67 per cent, when only 60 per cent is allowed.
"The character of Fort Langley will be gone," long time resident Paul St. Pierre said. "We really need a three-storey store in our community like we need a cholera outbreak."
The mixed use Coulter Berry building will consist of 10 new spaces for retail shops, two new restaurants (one with a rooftop patio), office space on the second level and 10 residential apartments on the third level. Two of the apartments will have full accessibility and two will be for seniors.
Other features include a central breezeway from Glover Road to the new grocery store and 58 underground parking stalls, with 67 stalls in total.
Diane Morrison, owner of Wendel's Bookstore and Cafe across the street from the Coulter Berry site, says she is "strongly pro-development," but believes the bylaws need to be respected. She, and other developers, were required to follow them when they built in the area.
"We have had great success with our bylaws, there is no need to go outside of them," she said.
Though the building will be lowered to two storeys at the southern end near Beatniks Bistro, owner Matt Choquette believes his business will be significantly affected. He asked council to uphold the three metre setback to his property line.
Beyond Coulter Berry's size, others said that the 67 stalls will not be enough parking for the business operators, their employees, the residents and the public, even though the bylaw only requires 65.
"Fort Langley has become a playground for wealthy developers," Gail Chaddock-Costello warned. Allowing this to go through will set the precedent for these types of buildings in the future, she said.
But many think Coulter Berry is exactly what Fort Langley needs. Several business owners in the area said they want the additional stores and office spaces to help sustain their current operations. Although business is great during sunny weekends in the summer, in the off season it is hard for many of the stores to stay afloat. Bringing people to the village on weekdays would be a huge benefit.
People need to come onside and work with Woodward, Shirley Rempel, owner of Country Lane Antiques said.
"Have some mercy, folks, on your merchants," she pleaded.
As Howie Vickberg pointed out, the Heritage Manor, built at 9124 Glover Rd. in 1994, is the same size at the Coulter Berry building.
"Good design, like taste, is often in the eyes of the beholder," he said. Coulter Berry is an "important part of ongoing positive change."
Brenda Alberts called it the "perfect plan for this important corner" because it encourages pedestrian traffic. Other supporters like the idea of underground parking, public washrooms, and increased security that "eyes on the street" from residents in the apartments will add.
Norm Davis, a resident of Fort Langley and architect of both Heritage Manor and Coulter Berry, defended the design plans. He notes that Coulter Berry will be constructed with quality classical materials, will meet LEED environmental certification and will create a pedestrian zone. In the future he would even like the breezeway to be closed off and transformed into a pedestrian mall.
The underground parking is also very expensive — about $30,000 per stall, he said. But is being added for the community benefit.
"You could actually live in this building and work in this building and almost never leave this building, which is really great," he said.
Woodward spoke about his project on Tuesday night, explaining to the public about the challenges he faced given the location of Lee's Market (the former IGA) and the rectangular shape of the property.
"Because Lee's Market entrance is off the lane it creates this three sides of frontage for the Coulter Berry building," said Woodward. "All three sides of the building will be faced. If I didn't do that the back of the building would have faced the street which wouldn't have looked good at all. I really took that seriously. But it necessitated getting the cars underground."
"Underground parking is expensive. The third floor density was necessary to make the project barely economical," said Woodward on Wednesday.
The next stage for the Coulter Berry is the building permit which Woodward said is even more detailed. If all goes well with that process, he hopes to begin construction next summer.
He wanted to thank all those who supported him and the Coulter Berry building.
"To those who are opposed, with all the information I provided last night, I hope to change their minds over time," he said. He also appreciated the lengthy debate by council around approving his project.
"I think a 7-1 vote sets a very high bar to get these variances supported and I think it speaks to the look of the project," he said.
Files from reporter Monique Tamminga