The development boom and red hot housing market isn’t only affecting Vancouver.
It’s also stretching into the far corners of the Fraser Valley.
As CKNW’s Shelby Thom reports for our neighbourhood series, the historic village of Fort Langley is seeing dramatic change which has led to a community divided over densification.
Harold Whittel is a long-time resident and member of the Heritage Advisory Committee and says Fort Langley is at a crossroads.
“I think we just need to respect what is already there, and be very careful about the future of setting precedence that will change the size, scale and scope of Fort Langley forever.”
Just a 40-minute drive east of downtown Vancouver, Fort Langley is nestled on the banks of the Fraser River.
Rich in history with an uncertain future
Described as the birthplace of British Columbia, what was once a quaint village community is now a bustling tourist destination.
Rich in history, it is home to the Fort Langley National Historic Site, a former fur trade post of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
With a population of only a few thousand people, Fort Langley has undergone significant change in recent years.
And demand for new housing has skyrocketed, prompting a divide in public opinion about its future.
“When I grew up here as a kid”, says Whittle, “Fort Langley was a sleepy little town that was mostly made up of fisherman, mill workers, farmers, and it was a nice little quaint village, much as it is today. However in the last few years, obviously as other communities, the pressure to development has come to Fort Langley and there is a desire to develop some undeveloped lots and I think it is just important how that is done.”
Heritage designation at odds with development?
Whittel says the commercial core is in a heritage conservation area, which is a difficult designation to receive.
“All of that work was done thirty years ago, twenty years ago, and they had a very good idea of what Fort Langley should look like and how it should be developed, and right now it is at a crossroads.”
Prompting a raging debate over development.
Just a few years ago, the Langley Township council approved the controversial three-storey mixed use Coulter Berry building at the intersection of Glover Road and Mavis Avenue.
Whittel says the original proposal did not adhere to the strict height and style guidelines established in local bylaws.
“A lot of the variances were in my mind detrimental to the town as a whole.”
Opponents fought the project in court.
“Myself and a group of residents got together and took the Township of Langley to court to stop the decision they made to approve the original Coulter Berry building. We were successful in court in that a judge agreed the Township used the wrong process to approve the building. Subsequently, that was overturned on a technicality.”
Good for business?
The Coulter Berry developer now has his eyes set on a prime piece of land across from the historic Community Hall, raising fears the public divide could flare up once again.
Eric Woodward declined a recorded interview, but says on his website he is dedicated to the revitalization of the commercial core.
Local business owners are behind him.
“I’m in favour of doing it responsibility. I don’t want to see high-rises or completely unhistorical looking buildings” says Mona Neufeld, owner of True Aromatherapy Products and Spa.
“I think what they have done with Coulter Berry is very good because they have split up the facade, they have made it quite heritage looking. The community has become so much more vibrant since we’ve started cleaning up and changing things up. I’ve seen a dramatic increase in my sales and in my traffic.”
Owner of the Treasure Landing gift shop, Susan Saffold, says growth is good for a town.
“It is healthy for businesses and if you have a healthy business core, then you have a healthy town.”
Paulette Hawkings helps to run Simply Local Artisans Specialties, a family business.
“It was difficult when the ferry shut down because it really hurt the businesses here, but the BIA and those involved in Fort Langley just dug in and brought in a whole lot of extra excitement. We get a lot of local tourists, people from all over the Lower Mainland that come down to spend the day in Fort Langley because it is unusual, it is an unusual place. They have tried to keep out everything big box, like you won’t find a McDonalds or a Starbucks here. They really support the people who come and try to build businesses here.”
Fort Langley is also experiencing a demographic shift from blue collar to white collar workers, and real estate prices are shooting through the roof.
Local realtor Andy Schildhorn says older 1970’s style and heritage homes are still predominant.
“But what I’ve seen more in the past five years is more that people are moving out here and they are building their dream homes because we have bigger lots about 10,000 square feet, we got great community living. People are coming out and building their two storey and a basement dream home that are now probably selling for about $1.7 and $1.8 million dollars.”
Pop into a coffee shop and anyone will tell you their neighbourhood is changing.
“Places are selling just really quickly and we have a corner near us where there were two homes that were sold and demolished. And now there are three big homes that have gone into that with small yards, and they don’t fit in with what the neighbourhood looks like, so you can feel that the shift is happening” says a 16 year resident of Fort Langley who asked to remain anonymous.
But is change a bad thing?
“Well change is not a bad thing, change is good, but I think when there has been kind of a general feel of a heritage slow developing community, it’s alarming to see that major kind of shift.”