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A new future unfolds for Albion
A new future for Albion flats could be unfolding, after the recent decision by the land commission closed one door, opening another.
And in an optimistic scenario, the changes along Lougheed Highway could start as soon as a year from now.
“I would like to say next fall, but that’s not realistic,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin.
“If there are shovels in the ground by next fall, that would be great.”
With the Agricultural Land Commission’s rejection this summer of two exclusion applications on the west side of 105th Avenue, the District of Maple Ridge is now focusing on the east side, which the commission has tacitly OK’d for development – providing conditions are met.
Maple Ridge still has to figure out a way of fixing the drainage, and addressing soil contamination, to restore the soil on the west side of 105th Avenue for future farming, before putting in its own block exclusion application, allowing the east side to be pulled from the reserve.
“We now have a direction to move forward,” said public works general manager Frank Quinn.
“I think there’s a lot of progress being made. We have a decision, so we’re moving forward with our plans.”
If Maple Ridge’s drainage and soil remediation plans satisfy the land commission, turn-around time for ALC approval could be from three months to a year.
Plans until now have been for a mix of uses, recreational, light industrial and retail for the 150 acres that lie between 105th Avenue and 240th Street, with a mall taking up just a portion of that and serving as a catalyst for other projects.
“We don’t need a 150-acre mall. The market will determine what it will bear,” Daykin said.
He expects that residential uses on the flats remain outside the plans, pointing out it is in flood plain.
Daykin admits there remain many obstacles, such as working out the land swap with Smart Centres.
The development company currently owns 20 acres on the west side of 105th Avenue, fronting Lougheed Highway, and 10 acres on the east side, also along the highway.
Smart Centres wants to give the district its 20 acres, in return for the district’s land on the east side of 105th Avenue.
That land includes the 17 acres the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Agricultural Association leases for its annual Country Fest. If achieved, Smart Centres would have least 27 acres for mall development, east of 105th Avenue, near the Lougheed Highway.
Country Fest organizer Lorraine Bates welcomes the move, saying it will put the fair closer to the Lougheed Highway, giving it more visibility.
Smart Centres has also said a new building, large enough to include exhibit space the Country Fest will lose at Planet Ice, will be part of the deal.
Talks are still underway, said Sandra Kaiser, with Smart Centres in its Toronto office. She hoped the company could file an application for non-farm use of its property with the land commission, allowing the fair to operate, “in the coming months.”
But the swap would have to factor in all the costs to the district, in the difference in land value, the costs of drainage and road improvements.
“The intent is that it would be even at the end of the day,” said public works general manager Frank Quinn. Consultants GP Rollo and Associates is helping the district in the bargaining.
Specific drawings and plans for the project remains along way off, but Daykin has said repeatedly he doesn’t want a “tilt-up mall,” referring to big box stores, although he concedes most buildings are built that way, with concrete walls poured then tilted up to make a box.
“You can dress up some tilt-up walls.”
While it’s taken a long time to get to this point, “it doesn’t mean we have to accept anything.
“I think people now realize, gee, the ALC has had a huge part to play in this.”
With issues crystallizing on the north side of Lougheed Highway, the future could also be firming up on the south side of Lougheed Highway.
Next week, council considers what business owners in the Albion Industrial Area want, part of the commercial and industrial strategy that’s underway.
Maple Ridge is also looking at better road access to the industrial area, by improving the intersections at either end or by constructing an overpass.
The district is also still discussing with TransLink the long-term goal of having a West Coast Express station in Albion, possibly near the former ferry terminal.
“That’s still in the cards,” said Quinn.
A review of pedestrian and traffic links between Albion flats and the downtown are also part of the new transportation plan, while the new master recreation plan still envisions a sports stadium in the Albion area.
“One of the things we’re adamant on is that it’s going to be a quality development down there,” Quinn said. “We’re not looking for a sea of asphalt.”
Former councillor Craig Speirs suggests that efforts to find solutions for the Albion flats have drained district resources from other projects, such as creating a heritage area plan for Hammond.
He cited the True North Fraser Blue Grass Festival last weekend on the Albion fairgrounds, showing how the area can attract people to Maple Ridge.
“My advice to council is that, unless this project has a huge benefit to the community, they should say no and reject it.
“This is a huge community asset that can’t be messed with.”
Speirs said any Albion development would have to benefit agriculture and the surrounding area.
“It’s got to be a huge step above a strip mall and it has to be something that really resonates.”