Langley Township council split 5-4 on a vote turning down a $750,000 federal grant after a multi-week debate on the future of a prominent site in downtown Aldergrove.
The Jan. 17 vote was the second this month on a project that would have created a plaza, at least temporarily, at 27030 Fraser Highway.
The site is called the Gateway Plaza and sits just west of the Aldergrove Credit Union Community Centre (ACUCC).
The Township bought the lot, just under an acre in size, for $3.7 million in 2017. Right now it has two empty buildings, their leases having expired in 2020, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken which still has a lease until 2025.
The Township hasn’t yet come up with long term plans for the site, but Ramin Seifi, general manager of engineering and community development, and when it was bought it was mostly seen as “land banking,” holding on to a key piece of land for some future use or development.
However, a federal COVID-related grant program spurred Township staff into coming up with a plan.
The Township successfully applied for a Canada Community Revitalization Fund grant last summer, under a tight deadline.
With a $1 million budget, the Township would have to spend half of that by this March, but Ottawa would provide $750,000 of the total project cost.
The Township’s plan, Seifi explained, was to use the money to demolish the empty buildings on the site, then revamp it with open public space and “street furniture” such as benches and landscaping.
“This was never intended as being the ultimate use [of the site],” Seifi noted.
In the longer term, the KFC would still have to be demolished sometime after 2025.
Council was split over whether the project was good for Aldergrove or not, and even over whether or not the project could be called a plaza.
Coun. Bob Long was enthusiastic about the possibility of new gathering space in downtown Aldergrove, especially during the pandemic, when outdoor spaces are safer than indoor gatherings.
“It’s a great gathering spot, it’s something we can be very proud of,” Long said.
Also supporting the project were Mayor Jack Froese, who had called for reconsideration of the project on Jan. 17 after it was originally defeated on Jan. 10, along with Councillors Margaret Kunst and Blair Whitmarsh.
“To me, this is a great step forward,” said Whitmarsh. “If we can get three quarters of a million dollars to do something great that we already want to do, that’s a bonus.”
The remaining five councillors had doubts about whether an interim project was worth pursuing, grant or no grant.
“Is this the best use?” said Coun. David Davis, worrying there could be better uses to go next to Aldergrove’s “jewel” of a swimming pool.
The site isn’t even a plaza, argued Coun. Eric Woodward, who also said the site needed planning and consultation before the council voted on what to do there.
“This whole process has gone off the rails,” he said.
“Are we chasing this for grant money?” said Coun. Kim Richter. “Or do we really have a plan for this area, and I don’t think we have a plan for this area.”
Long wondered why the other councillors would turn down the grant, which would help the Township pay for demolishing structures, money that will otherwise have to come out of their regular budgets.
“I think this is a huge shortsighted decision by council,” he said.
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