The issue of a shopping mall on the Albion flats has been simmering for a decade, but it could be a new council that deals with development in the area.
Talks have been dragging on for two years to work out a land swap between the District of Maple Ridge and land developer SmartCentres so a mall can be built on the flat land at Lougheed Highway and 105th Avenue.
Some people want it decided before the November municipal election and are surprised a deal hasn’t been reached yet.
Mayor Ernie Daykin wants something before the public before the Nov. 15 municipal election. He doesn’t know if it will happen, though.
“I’m hopeful … and I’m as frustrated as anybody else.”
Discussions are ongoing with SmartCentres.
“In terms of Maple Ridge, we are continuing to work with the district on a land exchange agreement in order to realize our vision to build a shopping centre in the Albion,” said Sandra Kaiser, SmartCentres, vice-president of corporate affairs.
“Hopefully, we will be able to provide an update later in the year.”
Negotiations are complex because they involve the District of Maple Ridge taking possession of undevelopable land in the Agricultural Land Reserve on the west side of 105th Avenue.
In return, the district will give SmartCentres land on the east side, including the Albion fairgrounds, that can be developed commercially because it has the tacit approval for removal from the reserve.
Talks involving land deals are secret while underway, but once a deal has been reached, the public will have input before council gives final approval to a land swap. After that, Maple Ridge must submit a block land exclusion application to the Agricultural Land Commission.
“Every opportunity will be given to get the information out to the public. Whatever it looks like, it needs to be understood,” Daykin said.
“If we’re going to err on the side of anything, it’s on the side of caution. It’s taxpayers’ money, assets. The public has a huge vested interest in it, that’s for sure.”
Daykin hasn’t heard if the mall proposal has been changed in size, saying the developer knows what size it has to be in order to make it viable.
But the commercial component will extend east on Lougheed Highway from 105th only as far the building supplies store, leaving the remainder to 240th Street for business park, commercial or recreational use.
If a deal is signed before the election, council can be accused of ramming it through. If a deal is made after the election, politicians can be accused of letting the new council deal with it.
“I’m surprised as much as anyone else that it’s taking this long,” said mayoralty candidate Coun. Mike Morden.
He thought talks would have finished much sooner.
But he also says staff will try to get some of the details about the plan before the public.
“Something will become apparent before the actual election.”
But it’s important to report to the public whatever they can, he said. “We have an obligation to be as open and forthright as we possibly can.
What that is and when, he doesn’t know.
Many parties are involved in the talks, he said
Will it be an election issue?
“I don’t know that we’re going to have that answer to that.”
It’s out of council’s control, he said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t have an application before the election.”
And a new council may see the deal differently.
Morden said he doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other as to whether the deal should be signed after or before the election. But he wouldn’t be surprised if nothing happened before the election.
Mayoralty challenger Tyler Shymkiw said council is well within its rights to pursue the deal.
“They were elected, in part, on the promise that they would deliver shopping.”
But he doesn’t want to see happen is a “sweetheart last-minute deal just so that they show some progress before the election.”
He added that for an issue “that has been so central and contentious in the political conversation of this community for so long, a robust consultation process” is needed to ratify any deal.
The issue also could be put to referendum, and hopes the issue will be settled once and for all.
James ‘Buddy’ Rogers, who’s seeking a council seat, says a lot what’s going on should be more public.
“The one thing I can say is I do support more shopping in Maple Ridge.”
But it’s been going on for two years.
“If it’s going to come out shortly after the election, why do it before?”
Mayoralty challenger Graham Mowatt says referenda can raise voter interest, and the Albion flats deal would be good to tack on to the municipal ballot.
It’s an important issue and the public should be updated before the election, he said.
He wants the public to be better informed about negotiations the district has on a variety of issues.
Grover Telford, who’s also trying for council, said he’s bothered that they don’t update the public.
“I don’t know where they’re at,” he said. “That’s my main beef, that they started something and they don’t keep the public informed as to what’s happening. Nobody knows.”
On the other hand, Albion shopping is still an election issue in 2014, just as it was in 2011, when Telford also supported a mall in the area.
“The great thing is, I don’t have to change my signs.”