Hundreds turned out to speak for or against the controversial Coulter Berry Building planned for Fort Langley at Mondayâ€™s Township council hearing.
Of more than 140 people who spoke on Monday night, during the four-hour first portion of the meeting, approximately 35 were opposed, and one or two were neutral.
Those in favour were largely Fort residents, some of them having lived there for decades.
â€œI need a place to live,â€ said Fred Jackson, a longtime resident who now uses a wheelchair. â€œCoulter Berry offers four suites that can be handicapped adjusted.â€
Nothing else in the Fort is offering that kind of housing, he said.
â€œI need that third floor, and I support it a hundred per cent,â€ said Jackson.
The third floor of the three-storey development planned for the corner of Mavis and Glover, is the key to much of the controversy.
The building is to consist of commercial outlets on the ground floor, offices on the second, and condo apartments on the third.
Those in favour say it is an attractive building that will bring new residents and jobs to the Fort, along with additional parking, the majority of which will be underground. It is to be built with a heritage-style facade.
Opponents charge that it violates heritage guidelines created for the Fortâ€™s downtown, and that it is simply too large, and will overshadow the area. They worry that it will destroy the heritage character of the neighbourhood.
The pro-Coulter Berry side was well organized Monday, having signed up the vast majority of the first 100 speakers.
Many were local business owners, like Catherine Doyle.
â€œThis delay in building is negatively affecting my business,â€ Doyle said.
She was one of many who wanted construction to resume. Neither side has been happy about what some have dubbed the â€œheritage hole,â€ the sizeable excavation that was created before a court ruled against the first version of the Coulter Berry plan.
Many prominent residents of the Fort and surrounding areas spoke on behalf of the project.
Howie Vickberg, a former Township councillor, said that council had endorsed the first version of the design, and said that, if anything, this second version has been an improvement.
â€œI would hope you would give the same consideration to the new proposal,â€ Vickberg said.
Albert Anderson of Aldor acres also spoke in favour, as did artist and Fort Gallery director Susan Falk.
Opponents were steadfast that the building should be reduced to two storeys in height.
â€œI believe it is a beautiful building, however it is way too big in height and width,â€ said Sarah Fraser.
Some residents whose families go back more than a century spoke, on either side.
Katherine Hope is a fifth-generation member of the Hope family, and she noted that her great-grand uncle was the architect of the Fort Langley Community Hall, and she is related to the Berry family, which had a store on the site, and for which the building is partly named.
â€œWe want to progress and evolve as a community,â€ Hope said.
Bob Armstron, whose great-grandfathers came to the Fort in 1882, and who had an ancestor who also worked to build the community hall, was opposed to the project.
He has no problem with the look of the building, he said.
â€œBut itâ€™s too damn high and it takes up too much space,â€ he said.
Many residents, for and against, bemoaned the fact that the controversy has divided the community. Many said they are reluctant to talk about their views because they worry it will harm their personal or professional relationships.
Connie Blundy, president of the Fort Langley Community Association, said her group was officially remaining neutral. Its own members are divided, she said.
The association is calling for a new Fort Langley Official Community Plan, created with consultation with the current residents, and to which developers can adhere.
The meeting ended at 11 p.m. and was to continue into Tuesday evening, with 28 people still left on the speakerâ€™s list. The hearing continued for another four hours on Tuesday, with approximately 244 people having spoken by the end of the second night. There were another 60 names on the list heading into the third night, and more people would be allowed to sign up at the meeting.
After last weekâ€™s overcrowded attempt to hold a hearing on a new Brookswood/Fernridge Community plan, the Township was better prepared for the Coulter Berry hearing. Screens and speakers were set up at several foyers in the Township civic facility so overflow crowds could watch.