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Ridge council faces industrial development challenges

Maple Ridge councillors told staff they have high expectations for the district’s so-called employment lands.

Council recently reviewed the district’s commercial and industrial strategy. Staff has been meeting with property owners about the plans, which identify sites in the community that could be developed for business and industry. The report to council emphasized some of the short-term challenges.

The process began in February 2012, and city staff held workshops with industrial land owners on June 5. City hall sent 390 invitations to industrial land owners, and 18 attended the event. For another session that day, staff sent approximately 200 invitations to owners of properties identified as employment generating lands, and eight attended. Then, on June 26, there was a public open house, attended by 19 people, who were invited to comment on the plan.

Industry representatives told the district that there is an economic lull, but a regional shortage of industrial land leaves them optimistic about the long term. The report notes that Maple Ridge industrial areas typically offer low rents, but still have difficulty attracting tenants.

There are already large tracts of vacant land in the Albion Industrial Area. More western locations in Metro Vancouver have a competitive advantage over Maple Ridge in attracting industrial land users. These factors provides little incentive for new industrial development, notes the report.

Coun. Al Hogarth also cautioned council that some works in the Albion industrial area could demand expensive infrastructure for flood proofing against the Fraser River.

“To me, that is critical in any discussion,” he said, and added that sticking with existing zoning should not be expensive for the district.

He also said that simply designating an area for commercial development does not ensure it will attract investment.

He knows of two properties in Albion, for sale and available for development, that have had few interested buyers in more than 35 years on the market, he said.

“We can have all the zoned property we want, but we need people to come and buy,” said Hogarth.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said staff needs to be more creative in marketing employment lands to business and industry, saying the district will not be well served by more warehouse space.

“If you know you’re behind the eight ball competing, what are you going to do?” she asked

Coun. Mike Morden echoed that sentiment, saying the district is about 100 acres short on industrial lands, and the staff report did not convince him that the district has a sound plan to address that in the near future.

Frank Quinn, general manager of public works and development services, reassured councillors that there was also skepticism about the district’s ability to attract condominium development downtown, but it has attracted more than expected with “imaginative incentive programs.”

Details about those incentives will be forthcoming in a future report.

Industry representatives said the incentive program from the district should be crafted to attract specific sectors and development, noting in particular that the district needs hotels and conference centres.

Included in the report is feedback from members of the Albion Industrial Area Association. The group asked council to widen River Road, create a controlled intersection at the west end of River Road to allow a left-hand turn onto the Lougheed Highway, develop the regional park at the west end of River Road, have signage along the Lougheed Highway advertising the Albion Industrial Area, and improve sightlines from the highway to the area.

Three other properties were identified as potential new employment lands: Ministry of Transportation lands which are located to the west of the Haney Bypass, at the Lougheed Highway intersection; several properties located to the east and west of the Kwantlen reserve; and a third site southwest of the intersection of 128th Avenue and 232nd Street. The latter would make for good commercial or office development, noted the report.

Staff will work with GP Rollo and Associates to finalize the draft strategy.

“I’m confident that when the package comes, it will be one that wows us,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin. “We’re setting the foundation now, for what it [the district] will look like in 30 years.”

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