‘Time is money’ for industrial growth

Council tells staff to get to work on employment land incentive program

Maple Ridge council is hoping the incentives that kickstarted a building boom in the downtown will do the same thing in the far-flung areas where the city wants to grow its industrial base, lightning the load on residential taxpayers.

Despite objections during Monday morning’s discussion, council OK’d the Employment Land Investment Incentive program that afternoon and told staff to write up a bylaw.

“That wasn’t a difficult thing to understand. We’ve been working on this for the better part of two and a half years. We’ve got to keep moving forward on that,” Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said Tuesday.

The employment land investment incentive plan will slash in half building permit fees and development cost charges (through a rebate) for new industrial projects and give property tax exemptions on a sliding scale for five years.

Grants and rebates could also be available for green buildings and buildings on “brown field” sites – that is, locations formerly occupied by another industry.

The program is based on 2010 downtown incentive plan, which resulted in more than 70 projects and $140 million in investment.

“As far as investors are concerned, time is money,” said a staff report, referring to priority processing for such applications as another incentive.

The plan will be in force for four years and apply to Maple Ridge’s industrial heartlands.

Any new structure build in the following areas will qualify: the industrial area at the north end of 256th Street; Albion Industrial Area on the south side of Lougheed Highway;, the new Kanaka Business Park, also at the north end of 256th Street; Maple Meadows Business Park; and any industrial land along the Lougheed Highway, east of 240th Street as far as Ruskin.

While council OK’d the idea, staff still have to write up a bylaw for council’s Oct. 14 meeting, at which three readings will be sought.

Staff was eager to get council approval before November’s civic elections.

“Without clear direction today, staff will not have enabling regulations in place for this council mandate,” corporate planning manager Laura Benson said in a report.

“Our industrial land is precious. Let’s keep it,” she told council.

“We should focus on high-value jobs and high-value density.”

The incentives won’t apply to big-box stores, dance or fitness studios, or mini warehouses.

Total cost of the program rings in at a million dollars, $350,000 of which will come from money left over from the town incentive plan.

While the program costs the city up front, the city will earn more tax dollars in a few years after the incentives expire and full rate is paid by the new properties.

Council also voted to extend the three-year town centre incentive plan, which expired in 2013, by another two years.

Coun. Corisa Bell didn’t agree with the applications getting priority processing from staff over other projects, but Coun. Bob Masse suggested the term be changed to expedited processing.

Coun. Al Hogarth said council had agreed earlier to look at zoning changes in the Albion industrial area.

“It’s time this got some recognition. Help them down there.”

Staff will consider council’s comments in writing up the final bylaw.

Daykin said other issues, such as different land use in Albion flats, will be dealt with later.