A stalled plan to redevelop two big plots of Downtown Fort Langley might be back on the table in the form of a partnership with the Kwantlen First Nation, the partners announced March 4.
The proposal is to arrange a transfer of the 1.2 hectares of prime commercial real estate, in two parcels, from the Eric Woodward Foundation to the Kwantlen, which would apply to have it added to the First Nation’s reserve.
Assuming the addition is successful, Fort Langley Properties, a company wholly owned by the foundation, would lease the land back to co-develop the real estate into a mixed-use commercial and residential district in the heart of the historic village’s shopping district.
The Kwantlen view the proposal as “an amazing step towards reconciliation,” Chief Marilyn Gabriel said in a news release, “helping to strengthen the Kwantlen First Nation and promote ourselves as a key partner and leader in our regional economy.”
“Kwantlen has been growing tremendously in capacity and working tirelessly to promote meaningful partnerships within our territories for the next seven generations,” Gabriel said.
The Kwantlen “are always looking to increase our land base for the Nation,” said Brenda Knights, CEO of the First Nation’s economic development corporation, Seyem.
The 2014 example of the transfer of the 21-hectare Jericho Lands to a Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations corporation “spurred a lot of interest across Canada” for similar ventures, Knights said.
“Squamish as well recently acquired lands,” Knights said, “so we see this as Kwantlen’s time now.”
The Kwantlen still have to submit an application, which could take three-to-five years to complete, under federal rules that were revised last fall to shorten the process from an average of 10 years, Knights said.
The property, valued at $13 million to $14 million, is less than a kilometre away from the Kwantlen’s existing 181-hectare IR 6 lands. Knights said the First Nation previously had property from within that reserve expropriated for the old Albion Ferry and is going through the process to have that returned as well.
Such a downtown addition, however, would remove development from the municipal authority of the Township of Langley, where current owner Woodward has had on-again, off-again plans to redevelop the two properties into a mixed-use neighbourhood with 100,000 square feet of commercial space and 75 residential units. In the past, the Fort Langley community has been divided over the amount of change such development would bring to the downtown district, which is designated a heritage conservation area.
Woodward, who has also been a councillor for the Township of Langley since 2018, withdrew previous applications for development with the township. Woodward said the economics of renovation don’t make sense for 11 of 12 buildings on the two properties, save for the 1928 Simpson Bros. building at the corner of Glover Road and McBride Street, which he had always planned to restore.
“And we’re in this bind where we’ve had delays with getting approvals to move forward, and in the interim, not been allowed to remove them,” Woodward said.
In the meantime, Woodward had begun transferring ownership of the properties, many that sit empty and boarded up, from his company, Statewood Properties, to the non-profit charitable foundation, which he intends to be a legacy for the community’s benefit. And late last spring he started discussions with the Kwantlen about the possibility of a development in partnership with the First Nation.
“In hindsight, it’s fantastic to have ended up here,” Woodward said of the partnership and being able to draw the Kwantlen into economic development on property that is within their traditional territory. “And I think that the way we’ve been talking about it that once this announcement is public, to the people in Fort Langley and Langley, it will seem obvious, inevitable and wonderful. Not about buildings and not about some temporary dispute with a few politicians who won’t be around much longer.”
Knights said the application to add land only initiates the process, which will involve consultation with the Township of Langley to work through concerns and deal with agreements over municipal services, and eventually a referendum for all Kwantlen residents.
“We’re often on the receiving end of referrals from government (over developments) and now we’re playing that role,” Knights said.
And while Woodward had previous plans for the site, Knights said what finally gets built will have to be determined through the planning process.
“Certainly our membership will be interested in having a strong presence in Fort Langley and having the buildings reflect Kwantlen,” Knights said, but whatever it is has to make economic sense.
Kwantlen First Nation Coun. Tumia Knott added that they want to be good neighbours with the township.
I think it’s really important that it’s complementary to the region (and) fits within community values,” Knott said. “Not just Kwantlen’s values, but the values of the region of Fort Langley that we call home.”
In a news release, Knights referred to the partnership as a unique initiative in private-public reconciliation with a First Nation that impressed B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser.
“It’s great to see partnerships like this one demonstrating the real benefits of reconciliation,” Fraser said in a statement, “that by working together, we get better outcomes that benefit First Nations, governments and the communities and people they serve.”