Albion flats shopping centre, land swap still being debated

A former mayor is wondering about the outcome of the Albion flats land swap and questioning the decision to put a shopping centre...

A former mayor is wondering about the outcome of the Albion flats land swap and questioning the decision to put a shopping centre on farmland at 105th Avenue and Lougheed Highway.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s in the flood plain,” says Gordy Robson, mayor of Maple Ridge between 2005 and 2008.

“There’s absolutely no transit down there for anything. That’s silly. If you don’t have transit, you can’t do anything.”

The District of Maple Ridge has been negotiating with Smart Centres to switch the developer’s land on the west side of 105th Avenue with district land on the east side of the same road, comprising the Albion fairgrounds.

The east side has the Agricultural Land Commission’s tacit blessing for removal from the farmland reserve, while the west side does not.

But Robson says selling the district land should be a public process and have to go through an alternative approval process, which means it could go to referendum if more than 10 per cent vote against.

“I think you have to do something like that.”

Robson said when he was mayor, he favoured a larger scale plan in the area that would have started with an overpass at the intersection of 105th Avenue, crossing the CP Rail tracks and connecting the south side of Albion with the north and creating a commercial/residential node focused on that intersection. But nothing could happen without an overpass.

Robson said that without transit, downtown Maple Ridge won’t thrive because people have no way to get to work in order to support development of the core area. Bricks and mortar shopping isn’t as attractive any more, he added.

He said the district gets “stuck in these ruts … and they don’t recognize the product anymore.”

According to district staff, the Community Charter sets out the process for selling district-owned land. That includes public notices that describe the property, and who will buy it and what “consideration” the district will get for the sale.

People, though, want more shopping in the district, said Mayor Ernie Daykin.

“If the mall builders don’t think they can fill up a 250,000-sq.-foot mall, they wouldn’t continue down the path to make something happen.”

Shopping remains a form of entertainment, he added, and creating a big-box mall in the area would keep people from leaving Maple Ridge to do so.

Daykin said a mall development would require an exclusion application from the land reserve and require a district public hearing.

One of those possibly affected by the redevelopment could be the Ridge Meadows Home Show, which takes place every year in Planet Ice at the Albion fairgrounds.

If the fairgrounds and parking lot moved to the west side of 105th Avenue, more shuttling of visitors and exhibitors from parking lots to the home show would be required.

“We can’t start shuttling to another venue,” said organizer Cass Winder.

“It would certainly change the show.”

Home show organizers were to meet this week with district staff to discuss possible impacts.