Albion flats’ owners told to make their case

Maple Ridge council unanimous, they want excl. application, fast

Maple Ridge council made it official Tuesday, voting unanimously to allow landowners to make their best pitch for shopping and light industry on the west side of Albion flats.

But they’ll have to move fast in order to get their proposal to the Agricultural Land Commission by summer so a decision can come back by fall.

Council opted for the third of three choices laid out by staff to determine what will happen to the area along Lougheed Highway at 105th Avenue.

That option calls for the property owners to apply to take their land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve, even though the land commission opposes non-farm use for the western portion of the 106-hectare Albion flats.

In the meantime, the District of Maple Ridge will start its own exclusion process for the east side of 105th Avenue, to be fine tuned once it learns of the commission’s decision on the west side.

But time is of the essence for a few on council.

Coun. Michael Morden wanted a decision on the process done by year end, before the spring 2013 election, which could unseat the Liberal government and its policies on the land reserve.

The NDP created the Agricultural Land Reserve in 1973.

“My main concern is enough is enough,” said Coun. Al Hogarth. “This has been a political football.” It’s time for the property owners to either put forward a development proposal that works or go back to farming the land, an area that’s consumed council for more than a decade.

“At the end of the day, there has to be something come out for the community,” Hogarth said. But the application should be done in a respectful way for the agricultural values that the land commission may see as being at risk. He also called for a firm deadline by which an application must be filed.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said the land commission will make its decision based on the information that’s before it, even though it said in November it wouldn’t support exclusion of land on the west side of 105th Avenue.

If the commission rejects the first application, Maple Ridge can continue with its own application to exclude land on the east side of 105th for commercial and recreation development, a use that’s already received informal approval of the land commission.

Council proposed a plan for developing most of Albion flats because it thought that’s what most in the community wanted, despite consultation in 2010 that showed support for much less intense development, pointed out Coun. Judy Dueck.

The district can OK any plan it wants but unless a developer is willing to put up the money, nothing will happen, she added.

“We will have a better product at the end of the day because we will know once and for all what’s happening on the north side.”

The option selected by council could delay decisions for the area by a few months, compared to the timeline of Maple Ridge simply applying to exclude land from the east side, which could see an ALC decision by September.

Former municipal candidate Christian Cowley, also with the Community Education on Environment and Development Centre, predicted the land commission would reject the exclusion of the west side of 105th Avenue.

“The ALR is not for today. The ALR is not for tomorrow. It’s forever.

“It’s a very shortsighted policy. It contradicts the purpose of the ALR. It demonstrates ignorance of the purpose of the ALR.”

The land is in the flood plain and like much farmland, is surrounded by homes and businesses. “It’s a ready market. People could walk to it.”

Cowley said one of the applicants wants to put residential development on the land. Council’s policy is not to allow ALR withdrawals for residential use.

“The shopping argument has been heard louder than it actually is and it’s swaying council.”

E-mails and calls to Smart Centres or Genstar Development, weren’t returned.