Court halts work on Coulter Berry building

Work on Fort Langley building is halted after opponents convince judge that variance decision by council was illegal.

Work on the Coulter Berry building in Fort Langley has been halted, in light of a B.C. Supreme Court ruling Friday in Chilliwack.

Several opponents of the building had banded together to seek a halt to work on the building, citing its variance from Langley Township’s Fort Langley heritage guidelines. After hearing arguments from the petitioners and the Township over two days, the court set aside the permit and said it will issue a written judgment in four months.

The court set aside the heritage alteration permit issued by the Township, on the basis that it ‎improperly varied the density of use. Justice Joel Groves did not clarify the ruling any further.

Work on the building began in late summer.

The building has been controversial. It was the subject of a lengthy public hearing and, after council approved it, it has faced continued opposition from a group of Fort Langley residents and the Langley Heritage Association.

In a statement on the Coulter Berry website, building owner Eric Woodward said “While we strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, we must now begin the process of demobilizing the construction crews currently onsite, and those that were geared up to commence. We have no choice but to wait until the situation is resolved by the Township.

“My heartfelt thanks goes out to all of the countless supporters that have encouraged us and helped get Coulter Berry approved and underway for all of Fort Langley. I also want to thank the many technical experts and excellent trades people that have been working so hard to make Coulter Berry a reality. And I sincerely apologize to the people that will now have to change or postpone their plans to locate or expand their businesses in Fort Langley within Coulter Berry.”

Woodward told The Times that excavation is almost complete, but he had not received a building permit. He does not expect to get one until the Township has clarified the impact of the ruling and has responded to it.

“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “I can’t fully understand it (the decision).”

The society that initiated the lawsuit is meeting on Tuesday night and plans to issue a statement on the court ruling after that meeting.

Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese said the decision will be reviewed by council and its legal advisers. He said in a statement that “Council will be discussing this judgment with legal counsel and Township staff before we are able to make any decisions on our next steps.”

Referring to the ongoing controversy, Froese added “Council made every effort to ensure all opinions were heard and that proper process was followed. Council’s decision was made in the best interest of the public at large, to benefit our entire community. A community open house and a two-day public hearing was held, with a great deal of input received by council from members of the public, Township staff, and legal counsel prior to granting the permit.”

The lawyer who won called the decision a “vindication” for his clients.

Prince George lawyer Roy Stewart is a Queen’s Counsel with expertise in heritage cases.

“This is a clear, unequivocal statement by the court.” Stewart said, one that declares the heritage alteration permit that allows the Coulter Berry design to exceed Fort Langley size limits to be invalid.

“And as a result no work can be carried out [on the site],” Stewart said.

– with files from Dan Ferguson

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