Mall underway this year, opens 2013

Kwantlen band starting on Lougheed Hwy.- 250th St. project

Maple Ridge residents will have a new shopping centre with a big anchor tenant by next year, spring of 2014 at the latest.

Property Development Group, in partnership with Kwantlen First Nation, wants to start construction of up to 275,000-sq.-foot of retail space by late this year.

“We obviously believe the opportunity is real and it’s now. We don’t need to wait a few years … for other approval or … third party events to happen. This site is ready now,” PDG chairman Lawrence Rank said Tuesday as members of the Kwantlen band gathered on the site at Lougheed Highway and 250th Street for the announcement.

“The market is here. We’re more than satisfied that this is a top-end development site and we’re treating it in that manner.”

Keith McRae, also with PDG, said analysis shows there’s demand for a new shopping centre regardless of whether retail development happens in Albion flats. “We believe there’s more than enough demand for this project at this location.”

The shopping centre will be the first stage in a phased project that will include up to 450 homes on the north side of the highway and an eco-recreation area along the Fraser River on the band’s land, Indian Reserve No. 5.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has OK’d a traffic signal and full  intersection for the site on the south side of the Lougheed Highway, which is about three kilometres east of 240th Street.

Sewage will be treated on site, but an agreement is needed with Metro Vancouver to supply water.

Kwantlen had already shown its plans at an open house in Albion hall in 2010. That drew positive reaction from residents, said consultant Steve Zuliani.

The District of Maple Ridge’s approval isn’t needed, but the band has met with council last year.

The site, named Schwnee-st, has been preloaded with soil for several years, so it’s ready for development.

The aboriginal word generally translated means welcome to our place. An exact name for the shopping centre hasn’t been selected.

Chief Marilyn Gabriel said it’s the largest development undertaken by the band council.

“It’s just a very exciting time. People have worked hard,” she said.

“We want to let people know this is one of the parts of our nation.”

The shopping centre will have a native theme and a cultural centre built at the west end, near the First Nations cemetery.

Many people know the band is based in Fort Langley, but aren’t aware of its traditional lands on the north side of the river. “We need to be visible on this side as well. We want to showcase our people.”

Rank stressed that the project will get going, soon. “This is zoned, serviced land.”

“It’s ready to go. We’re in the business of doing … not procrastinating.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin didn’t know of the announcement and said it would have been nice to have been invited. “But am I going to get my knickers in a knot? No.”

He didn’t see the project requiring any change to the process still underway for Albion flats at 105th Avenue and Lougheed Highway. Landowners will apply to exclude from the land reserve the property on the west side of 105th Avenue, even though the Agricultural Land Commission has said it won’t approve an exclusion.

PDG has just completed Eagle Landing Shopping Centre in Chilliwack, in partnership with Squialia First Nation. That’s a 650,000 sq. ft development anchored by Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

The Maple Ridge project will be about half that with only one major tenant at the east end of the outdoor mall.

Rank said he’s in constant communication with retailers and knows what they want and where the demand is. But there’s no tenant list yet. Getting the leases signed is one of the more time-consuming parts of the project, he added. But word is expected on that soon.

The buildings won’t aim to get certification by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. That system of energy-smart buildings hasn’t yet reached the retail sector, said Rank.

Last November, Ralph Drew, chair of the Lower Mainland treaty advisory committee warned municipalities to set iron-clad agreements with First Nations businesses to protect local taxpayers.

Negotiating an agreement will burn through thousands of dollars in staff time, he added.

“There is no requirement, legal or otherwise. It’s important to keep that in mind.” he told council. Instead, the district has to ensure full cost recovery for providing any services, such as water or sewer, or parks or roads. Even the long-term costs of extending infrastructure to reserve lands has to be considered, otherwise local taxpayers will be holding the bill.

But Daykin said that was “more pessimistic” than it needed to be. He pointed out a development could put in its own water and sewer systems and wouldn’t be completely dependent on Metro Vancouver.

An earlier report by G.P. Rollo Associates says any retail planned in Albion flats should only be about 112,000 sq. ft because of  the effect of Kwantlen mall and a new retail strip planned for the north side of Lougheed Highway in Pitt Meadows.

Even by 2025 with those two malls in place, the market only could support a 240,000-sq.-foot mall in Albion, it says in its report, Analysis of Land Use Demands and Implications for Albion Flats.