Updated: Coulter Berry public hearing wraps up

The public hearing on the proposed revival of the Coulter Berry project drew a smaller crowd Wednesday night. Over 300 people spoke over three days. - Dan FERGUSON / Langley Times
The public hearing on the proposed revival of the Coulter Berry project drew a smaller crowd Wednesday night. Over 300 people spoke over three days.
— image credit: Dan FERGUSON / Langley Times

About 90 people spoke Wednesday night at the third and final night of public hearings on a proposal that would revive the stalled Coulter Berry project in Fort Langley.

The hearing was extended three times past its 11 p.m. scheduled close, to end at 12:39 a.m.

The last person to speak was developer Eric Woodward, who filed a pro-Coulter Berry petition with 1,100 signatures.

A video posted online shows that when Councillor Bob Long interjected to complain that Woodward’s remarks did not directly address the proposed bylaw changes under consideration, Woodward said he would not continue speaking and would file his written statement instead.

When Councillor Charlie Fox said preventing Woodward from speaking was an “embarrassment” to council, that comment led to a brief and loud exchange with Councillor David Davis. It ended with Davis donning a sleeping bonnet and announcing “I’m ready for bed,” adding “this is what you get when you go past your bedtime, Charlie.”

Woodward then resumed speaking, saying the proposed bylaw changes, to rezone the site and permit construction to proceed, were the only timely solution to a “truly ridiculous situation.”

“Despite what many of those opposed to Coulter Berry seem to think of me, I am not an evil developer out to ruin the town,” Woodward said.

As before, opponents complained the building was too big while supporters said the three-storey project would revitalize downtown Fort Langley.

Work on the building was halted after opponents obtained a court order halting construction.

“It is a four-storey building dressed up as a three-storey building,” said opponent Kevin Thompson.

Another opponent, Barclay Neilson, said the building was simply not right” for the community.

“Everyone understands slight variations [in design limits] are OK,” Neilson said.

“This is not a slight variation.”

Elizabeth Campbell Wride called the three-storey mix of retail, office and residential where the old one-storey IGA store was located a “domineering building overpowering its surroundings.”

Michael O’Brien told council “this building is not heritage, nor will it ever be.”

O’Brien went on to call the design “a pig with lipstick.”

Mark Morrison, who owns a building not far from the proposed Coulter Berry site, said it was unfair to give another builder an exemption from size restrictions that he had to follow.

“I built my building under the guidelines,” Morrison said.

John Klassen, who said he helped draft the heritage guidelines, suggested newcomers to Fort Langley were more likely to support Coulter Berry than long-term residents like himself.

“They come to a village they like, then they set about changing it,” Klassen said.

“That is their right, but it’s amusing.”

Supporter Antonia Henderson it was “ludicrous” to suggest, as some speakers did, that a decision ought be delayed until the official community plan for the area had updated.

“We would be sitting with a hole in our village for a very long time,” Henderson said.

Terry Radtke said the uproar over the council decision to approve a variation of heritage guidelines was puzzling, saying “we’re acting like this is the first building to go to the board of variance [in Fort Langley] and it’s not.”

Sarah McAdam said the village should accept change as something good and “get out of the village mindset.”

“We seem to be stuck on the idea that two floors is heritage, three floors is not,” said Grant Holcombe.

Marti Bombardier doubted a single building could do the kind of damage opponents have claimed.

“What is out there that is so evil that can destroy our town?” Bombardier said.

One of the last speakers was former Township mayor Kurt Alberts, who suggested the design could be tweaked to reduce the height of the corner facade on Glover and Mavis by about three feet.

“I call it Coulter Berry 2.1,” Alberts said, adding he ran his idea past the project architect, who told Alberts “he could live with it.”

Woodward also endorsed the proposal.

Over all three nights of hearings in Township council chambers, more than 300 people spoke, about 60 per cent in support.

Shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday, everyone who registered had been given a chance to speak once before council, and people were starting to make second appearances.

Coulter Berry and the unrelated but equally controversial Brookswood community plan proposal are both scheduled come back to council for discussion and third reading on Monday, March 31, at 7 p.m. To accommodate the expected crowd, the council meeting has been moved to the Langley Christian Life Assembly at 21277 56 Ave. which can accommodate 1,400 people.

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