Former Birch residents Ed Thomas and Arthur Gauthier inspect the drawings for the new building. Dan Ferguson Langley Advance Times

Langley Lions unveil proposed replacement for apartments lost in fire

Eight-storey 101-unit building proposed

Initial reaction was generally positive to a proposed replacement for the Birch building for seniors and low-income tenants that was demolished after suffering severe damage in a 2017 fire.

Residents of the Langley Lions Housing Society (LLHS) complex in Langley City where the Birch used to be were given an advance look Wednesday.

Plans call for an eight-story, 101-unit structure, built with cross-laminated timber on the site of the original three-storey structure.

READ MORE: Crews demolishing fire-damaged Birch building

READ MORE: Lodging found for Langley City seniors displaced by fire

Construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2020 with completion by the spring of 2022.

Jeanette Dagenais, LLHS executive director, called it a “significant upgrade to the quality of housing we provide.”

“We’re very excited about our plan for this building.

Langley Lions Housing Society currently operates seven apartment buildings on its 203 Street property, some more than 40 years old.

Once the new Birch is open, plans call for the transfer of residents from one of the aging buildings that will be next in line for replacement.

“We’re not going to displace any of our people,” said Dagenais.

Builders and designers of the project attended the afternoon session in the Evergreen Timbers Amenities Hall, including Aaron Toews of Yellowridge Construction, the firm that built Evergreen Timbers, currently the newest and most modern building in the complex.

“It was about 10 or 12 years ago,” Toews said.

Sixty people lost their homes in the fire that caused the death of a tenant and some of them attended the open house.

Arthur Gauthier, one of the former residents of the older building, recounted his experience.

“I lost everything,” Gauthier recalled.

“I got my bike, my tools, basically that was it.”

His return took about a year, because he was able to stay with family.

“I told them to sort everyone else out before me,” he said.

“I had a place to go.”

Gauthier is hoping he can get a suite in the new building when it opens.

Mike Malahoff said the design looked “beautiful” but he was curious about the rates.

Exact numbers have not been set, but plans call for a mix of rate based on incomes with 20 per cent going to low income or “deep subsidy” suites, Dagenais said.

Ed Thomas was part of a small group of residents who were allowed to return to the fire-damaged building.

“I was one of the last tenants to move out before they demolished it,” he explained.

Thomas gave the new design a thumbs-up.

“It looks really good,” he said.

“I’m hoping I can get one of the wheelchair suites.”

Another Lions resident, Robert VanStrepen, was less positive, saying he would like to see more than the seven wheelchair accessible suites, along with ramps to allow people in chairs to evacuate the building.

“Those fire exit stairs are going to be no help to me,” VanStrepen said.

“I give two thumbs down.”

An afternoon open house for the general public is planned for June 27, also at Evergreen Timbers.

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LLHS Resident Mike Malahoff gets a look at the new Birch building. Dan Ferguson Langley Advance Times

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