VIDEO: Fort land owner says heritage bylaw too pricey

Eric Woodward spoke to council, but not about his development issue.

A Fort Langley landlord embroiled in a long-running dispute with the Township came to council last night to complain that a new heritage protection rule will cost him tens of thousands of dollars.

Eric Woodward said rules under the Heritage Property Maintenance Standards Bylaw will mean he has to replace boards on windows of his eight closed Fort Langley storefronts with polycarbonate sheeting, which he said will cost about $28,500.

“Approximately half the bylaw speaks to buildings within heritage boundaries that are not heritage buildings,” Woodward said.

None of his boarded-up Fort businesses are heritage buildings, but they fall in the boundaries of a Heritage Conservation Area.

Woodward said the polycarbonate would also allow people walking by on the sidewalk to see through the clear plastic into the partially-gutted buildings. Some have had asbestos or windows removed, he said.

“They were in a horrible condition when I purchased them,” Woodward said, adding that he has been “subsidizing” the buildings for 13 years since he bought them.

Now he said replacement of the buildings “isn’t going to be happening any time soon.”

Woodward also pointed out that the Haldi House in Fort Langley, a Township-owned heritage building, is presently boarded up itself.

The landlord and developer of the Coulter Berry building had planned several new developments in the area, but abandoned his plans earlier this year after lengthy wrangling with Township planning and development staff over issues such as fire lanes, moving buildings, underground parking, and garbage pickup.

Woodward said he is prevented from demolishing the buildings because they have “parking credits” attached to them.

Under current rules, the properties will lose their parking credits if they are demolished and no new construction starts within six months, Woodward said.

He said if the parking credits could remain attached to the land indefinitely, he could demolish the buildings.

Woodward said the stalemate on his properties will resolve itself, even if it is a decade or two from now.

“At some point it will solve itself, I’m not going to live forever,” Woodward said.

Councillor Kim Richter questioned Woodward about some of the issues at stake.

“I think we were under the impression that you just wanted to be left alone,” Richter said.

At the end of the meeting, a motion by Richter to have Township staff look into the parking credits and issues around street-facing polycarbonate was passed unanimously. Mayor Jack Froese also suggested referring the bylaw for public input before a final vote to adopt it.

According to the Township, the bylaw was created in response to the loss of a pair of heritage structures over the past year to lack of maintenance – they literally crumbled and collapsed.

Woodward also made brief mention of some online commentary by Township councillors about his decision to abandon his development plans and board up his buildings, calling the comments “not very nice” and not accurate.

But Coun. Charlie Fox, who posted the lengthy message on Facebook, wrote that he was trying to provide more information.

“Mr. Woodward has contended that the staff comments on his recent applications were trivial, short sighted and punitive – calling them in the newspaper ‘bureaucrats caring nothing for the negative outcome they cause, only a process that justifies their jobs’.” Fox wrote. “I can assure you, the staff comments are not just about ‘laneways to nowhere and jaywalking’ – they were considered, lengthy and related to the ton of variances needed to proceed with the applications.”

The post goes into lengthy detail about the variances requested in the development plans, including issues such as building heights of three to four storeys, emergency vehicle access, and garbage collection.

Coun. Angie Quaale also shared Fox’s comments on her Facebook page, and added some of her own.

“It is my hope that knowing the other side of the story will now help you understand who is responsible for the situation, and the only person who can change it is Eric himself by reapplying and getting to work creating a plan that doesn’t create another ‘my way or the highway’ situation,” Quaale wrote.

Woodward has recently announced he may run for mayor in the Township this October.

The landlord has intermittently argued his case in public over the past few months. He hosted a forum moderated by Metro Vancouver media personality Fiona Forbes in which he answered her questions and those of a large audience. Woodward has also announced plans to turn a vacant lot he had planned to develop into a “pop-up park” this summer.

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