Itâ€™s not been good for Fort Langley having a giant excavation at one of its most prominent corners since last fall. The one thing â€“ almost the only thing â€“ that both supporters and opponents of the Coulter Berry building can agree on is that they want the so-called Heritage Hole to be filled in.
The only other point of agreement, increasingly, is that the debate has dragged on so long, and turned so toxic, that it is poisoning the community.
Regardless of the side they were on, a number of speakers at the three-night (so far) public hearing on the second iteration of Coulter Berry said they were worried about the fabric of the community. People spoke of not wanting to speak up pro or con for fear of alienating friends and family.
Itâ€™s well known both to outsiders and longtime residents that Fort Langley is a neighbourhood that takes its physical form very seriously. Every change is certain to draw opinions, and while those are sometimes positive â€“ a few recent proposals for new buildings have flown through with nary a whisper of discontent â€“ the Fort is also legendary for fighting something its residents donâ€™t feel belongs.
In 1999, more than 200 people signed up to oppose plans to locate a window factory on the land where the International Forest Products sawmill once stood. The public hearing ran for four days before the developer pulled out in the face of massive public disapproval. The successor project, the Bedford Landing development, was re-shaped several times before and during its creation by public input. Plans for parks, trails, waterfront areas, and especially heritage buildings, always draw intense interest.
No matter what the result of the Townshipâ€™s decision on Coulter Berry, we hope for two things for the Fort. The first is that this can spark a new look at regulations on what can and canâ€™t be built there, to see what the community will accept. The other is that residents will be able to put this behind them, to get back to being a community again.