Ashlie wants to discourage sitting on downtown lots

Councillor proposes motion to put brakes on downtown lots being sold to speculators, but no solution yet

Maple Ridge Coun. Cheryl Ashlie doesn’t want Maple Ridge downtown to become a victim of its own success.

So she is proposing that staff find a way to keep downtown lots from being gobbled up by speculators, from near and far, who just want to sit on empty lots, rather than build and improve.

Ashlie said Maple Ridge’s No. 5 ranking in 2010 by the Real Estate Investment Network could attract investors who are looking to build long-term real estate portfolios.

That could be fine for security but doesn’t really mesh with plans for the district to build its downtown.

“My concern is around those who are simply looking for a global investment portfolio,” Ashlie said last week.

If there is a way of setting policies that encourage property owners to develop their properties rather than sit on them, Ashlie wants to get the policies in place before real estate interest really heats up and land gets tied up.

“I really want there to be clear signals. I just feel that’s important so we get it on the record.”

On Tuesday, council was set to debate Ashlie’s motion asking staff to find ways to “encourage timely and appropriate development,” in the downtown and Albion flats.

“Our downtown is not a huge area. We feel the empty lot syndrome much greater than another downtown core,” Ashlie said.

Maple Ridge could be “significantly impacted for years to come,” if such properties are held and not developed, the motion reads.

However, just what measures a municipality can take to discourage that isn’t known. The district’s successful downtown investment incentive plan, which has resulted in millions of dollars in new projects, does the opposite, by encouraging development through tax breaks and permit discounts.

However, staff have to find a way of discouraging owners from sitting on properties.

Ashlie also wants to ensure the two main corridors into the downtown, Lougheed Highway and Dewdney Trunk Road, are preserved for high-density development.

The district’s transportation plan is currently under review, but last year a motion was passed that the two be identified as transportation corridors. The long-term plan is also to extend rapid transit into the downtown along Lougheed Highway, once light rail transit crosses the Pitt River Bridge.

A state-of-the-art bikeway and pedestrian pathway is also ready to be built on the north side of Lougheed Highway, between 222nd and Laity streets, once money is available.

Ashlie pointed out she’s not advocating the municipality buy properties, but it should identify companies who want to actively develop properties.