As its skyline expects to see a major adjustment in the coming years, the City of Maple Ridge has taken a strong look at its town centre plan to ensure that residents who move in, and the businesses who serve them, feel comfortable in the area and enjoy their surroundings.
Lisa Zosiak, manager of community planning, said the city started a visioning process for its downtown area towards the end of summer.
“Council has gone through the town centre plan, and they realize it’s still relevant, and still contains a strong vision, but they’re really hoping to create more animation, more vibrancy, and more local economic development within the town centre,” she told The News.
Some of the policies in place to make the area more enjoyable to both visit and live in can be as simple as making sure the surrounding scenery is still view-able, Zosiak pointed out.
“We’re trying to protect view-scapes, as more-and-more building happens,” she noted.
“Based on how things are going to develop, you can’t guarantee there’s not going to be a building next to you, but you don’t want a group of buildings completely blocking a view corridor.”
Tying in to the pristine landscape are efforts to keep the new developments environmentally friendly, she explained.
“Developers have some leeway with how they design their buildings but we do have things in our development permit guidelines that we want to see incorporated into that design,” Zosiak said.
The city mandates new buildings must have green features, like – green roofs or green walls that might be partially or completely covered with vegetation, which are proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and aid in insulation of the building; or rain gardens, which naturally collect and filter run-off before it enters the storm drain system.
Focus on making the area plan more pedestrian- and cyclist–oriented is also important considering the uptick in density that is expected, Zosiak added.
“We want people to who live down here to be able to do all their daily activities without having to get into their car.”
The same should be true for people who visit, she insisted.
People should be able to leave their car for the time they’re here, and be able to do three-or-four errands.
To get some more input from its residents, the City of Maple Ridge held pop-up events at Memorial Peace Park in the fall, including a socially distanced walking tour, and a workshop for the business community.
Both groups brought up safety issues as a concern for enjoying the downtown core.
This comes as little surprise to the city staff, which has made community safety a top priority this year.
For instance, Chad Cowles was hired to oversee the operation of the community social safety action plan in February.
As a former superintendent of citywide services with the City of Vancouver, Cowles spent a lot of time in the city’s Downtown Eastside, and is well versed in dealing with some of the issue around crime and drug abuse, which he described as a thorn in the side of Maple Ridge.
One of the most effectual safety initiatives he has brought to reality, he said, is putting together a team of four community safety officers.
“They’re highly trained to deal with homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness,” Cowles said. “And just help with some of those issues, which are so challenging and so impactful to residents, seniors, the business community, and those who want to enjoy the downtown core peacefully.”
The manager of community social safety initiatives has also been partnered with the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Area (BIA) to launch a – lock out crime through environmental design – program.
He said the plan is to engineer the spaces in the city centre to ensure they’re not inviting for crime, mischief, and vandalism – which affect property owners city-wide.
Part of this involves sending the community safety officer out to existing properties to look at lighting, security cameras, and access points to buildings.
“After we do the assessment for them they can go back to the BIA and apply for a grant to pay for half the price of the renovations up to a maximum of $2,000,” Cowles said.
The city itself is also examining its lighting deficiencies, particularly in the lane ways cross-crossing the downtown core.
“We’re looking at areas that are under-serviced by streetlights and working with our engineering services and BC Hydro to see if there are ways that we can do new light installations,” Cowles said. “Especially this time of year, when it gets dark right around 4:30, street lighting becomes incredibly important and lane ways present all sort of safety risks.”
All of the safety initiatives are being carried out with the intention of ensuring people of all ages can visit the downtown core throughout the course of the day and feel safe.
Also of paramount importance to the city, is keeping the streets live with a vibrant recreation program.
Yvonne Chiu, the arts and culture recreation manager with the city, said offering programs in public spaces on a regular basis – that are also available year round – helps to attract more residents, visitors, and businesses to activate spaces in a positive way.
“It encourages a vibrant downtown,” she said.
“Animating and utilizing public space will enhance and support council’s strategic priorities, tourism, sport, and cultural strategies and goals in addition to the community plan.”
Zosiak agreed, saying large community gatherings for special events gives the downtown core a character.
She pointed to last year’s GLOW Maple Ridge event, which literally lit up the town centre.
“It looked gorgeous, and it’s one of many initiatives that were successful in getting people downtown through the year, and not just in the summer months.”
The city is currently working with consultants and its planning staff to make some final adjustments to the plan that will further increase its residents comfort levels.
A report is expected to be presented to council on Dec. 8.