Fiona Forbes (left) and members of the audience asked Eric Woodward about his recent actions in Fort Langley. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

Fort Langley developer questioned at public forum

Eric Woodward was asked about boarded up stores, a pink house, and future plans.

Fort Langley developer and property owner Eric Woodward answered questions Monday about the storm of controversy that has surrounded him since last year.

At a forum he hosted at the Chief Sepass Theatre, Woodward was interviewed by local TV personality Fiona Forbes and answered questions about a number of actions he has taken with his commercial properties in the Fort over the past six months. Those actions include:

• Painting a vacant house on Mary Avenue pink in October, before having it painted grey

• A Facebook post in which he announced he was surrendering in the face of Township of Langley requirements for his development proposals

• Boarding up several vacant buildings, including storefronts in the downtown core

• Posting blown-up versions of letters from a Fraser Health health inspector saying two of the boarded-up buildings were vermin-infested and should be demolished

The actions all stem from a series of disputes between Woodward, who owns more than 30 per cent of the downtown core of Fort Langley, and the Township’s staff over requirements for three projects he’d proposed for downtown.

The projects ranged in size, but the largest was the Glover Mary Church project planned for the site that includes the former Jim’s Pizza and a small cluster of vacant houses.

Woodward had planned a boutique hotel and other facilities for that site, but now isn’t sure that will happen even if he could get it built the way he wants, since the Township might build a hotel as part of its proposed redevelopment of the museum district and waterfront.

“If they’re doing a hotel, there’s no need for two,” Woodward said.

Woodward said he had also been told by Township staff that he would have to relocate an entire building – the 100-year-old Fort Grocery on the corner of Mary and Glover Road – as part of realigning and upgrading the intersection.

The Glover Road West proposal – now withdrawn – included a number of two and three storey buildings, a restoration of the Fort Grocery building, and 87 underground parking stalls.

“My understanding is there was no such request to relocate the building,” said Ramin Seifi, general manager of engineering and community development at the Township.

The development of Glover Road West that Woodward proposed would have necessitated moving the Fort Grocery to accommodate the planned underground parking, Seifi said.

Likewise, he said the Township didn’t ask for a full intersection, but for a plan for how that intersection would function with the new traffic from the project, Seifi said.

Township memos provided by Woodward show the Township development planning department asked for Woodward to dedicate a road widening along the north side of the existing lane. The 7.5 meter lane would have to be widened to 10.8 m wide, with the road dedication itself as wide as 18.5 meters.

Another memo references dedicating a varied widening of the lane “in order to accommodate the realignment of McBride Lane with Mary Street across Glover Road as well as widening of McBride Lane to a local road standard.”

Woodward criticized the other Fort residents and business owners who unsuccessfully sued the Township to try and stop the construction of the Coulter Berry building, calling them “the lawsuit group.”

“They still threaten me with new lawsuits, if I ever get another approval,” Woodward said.

He said he hasn’t yet reached the point of simply selling his land and walking away, and pointed to his track record since he bought the majority of his property in 2005.

“Who’s going to do a better job of revitalizing Fort Langley,” he said.

On why he put up the signs about rats, he said the buildings would cost more to renovate than to build new on those sites.

“I can’t do anything about a building that has failed,” he said.

Woodward said he isn’t sure what happens next. He said he needed the Township to spell out its requirements, in an open meeting, so he can plan for his properties.

“The best ideas should win, not the best social media firestorm,” Woodward said.

Mayor Jack Froese said that while bigger developments can be challenging, the process is the same for Woodward as it is for anyone else.

If he has questions about the Fort’s official community plan, he can ask to sit down with staff.

“He can ask for a meeting any time he wants,” said Froese.

But to move forward with a particular site, there needs to be a development application, Froese said.

Also at the meeting, Woodward referenced a death threat he said had been made against him.

The Langley RCMP did receive a complaint, said detachment spokesperson Cpl. Holly Largy. She said the file has since been closed and no charges were laid.

Woodward answered a number of questions from the audience as well.

He said documents, including memos and letters from the Township of Langley, would be put up on his website soon. The meeting was also being recorded and was expected to be posted.

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