District buys downtown lots
The District of Maple Ridge has purchased 14 properties between Haney Place and Valley Fair malls for $3.7 million to try and jumpstart downtown development.
All 14 properties were owned by a numbered company registered to the same address as the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation in Richmond. Of those, 13 have rental homes, some of them dilapidated.
The district plans to demolish them all, clear each site, then sell the three-acre parcel to be developed into a commercial and residential hub.
The properties are on Selkirk and 119th avenues, between the malls.
Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin hopes to see a mixture of ground-level commercial and higher-density residential units eventually built there.
“I’m just one voice on council, but I think we would consider a high-rise development,” he said Tuesday. “If it’s sitting the way it is right now six years from now, I’ll be hugely disappointed.”
The district paid for the land with money from a number of reserve accounts, said Paul Gill, Maple Ridge’s general manager for corporate and financial services.
“We had about $4.1 million available, so we didn’t have to borrow at all. Those accounts will be paid back over time.”
The district started negotiations for the properties in late November; the sale was finalized just before Christmas.
The district waited until Tuesday’s council meeting, after the holiday season, to officially announce the purchase, “out of respect and compassion for the tenants occupying the properties.”
They will now be evicted. Once they are out, the land will be cleared and prepared for development.
Some of the run-down homes on the parcel have been associated with criminal activity.
In November, Ridge Meadows RCMP arrested 12 people and seized a cache of crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and other illegal drugs from a house on the 22600-block of Selkirk Avenue.
Daykin said council began discussing buying up strategic properties early in its term.
“The initial conversation was around school sites and park sites,” he said.
However, talks began to include under-developed sites downtown, which the district could revitalize.
“When this property came on the market ... we thought, here’s an opportunity to get a piece of property that’s hugely underutilized, and take the bull by the horns,” said Daykin. “This allows the district to control the destiny for that property, and for the downtown.”
Daykin insisted the district’s financial exposure is minimal. However, exactly how the property will be developed and by whom has not yet been decided
“We’re not in the development business,” he said. “We’re here to facilitate growth.”
The hope is that the development of the district’s downtown site will spur development of privately-held properties nearby.
Other high-rise projects have been approved for the area, including north of 119th Avenue, and in 11900-block of 228th Street. However, construction has been stalled, largely due to the recent global economic downturn, Daykin said.
The district is also hoping a new set of incentives for developers will encourage high-density construction downtown.
Among the incentives the district is offering developers as part of its recently passed Town Centre Investment Incentives Program are reduced development fees, development cost charge relief, property tax reductions, and reduced permit fees.
Others aren’t so sure the district’s plan will work, however.
Decker Management, who’s president – Earnest C. Beaudin – is on Great Canadian Gaming Corporation’s board of directors, formed one half of the partnership that pulled out of developing the three-acre site three years ago because of a downturn in the economy.
If the District of Maple Ridge wants to spur development downtown, Beaudin said it has to make it economically viable for developers by not requiring them to build costly high-density projects.
“It really baffles me that they would buy this property,” he said. “It seems like they don’t really have a plan for it.”