Chamber likes district buy

Incentives a great help for two projects on 224th Street, says realtor

Buying three acres in the downtown is getting the thumbs up from the chamber of commerce president, while a major developer has the same thing to say about the incentives for building in the downtown.

“I love the fact that the [district] is being pro-active in order to stimulate growth and redevelopment in the downtown core. It’s spectacular,” said Jeremy Bekar, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce president.

“If you have a section that’s bringing down an area, to remove it and to make it simple for someone else to redo – that’s brilliant.”

Bekar was commenting on the District of Maple Ridge’s $3.67-million purchase last week of three acres on 119th and Selkirk avenues, between the two downtown malls. Once tenants have been evicted, the old homes will be demolished and the property cleaned up – to await a purchaser with money and plans.

Bekar said developers fear uncertainty and delays, which add to financing costs. By owning the land and having it ready for development, those obstacles are removed.

“The fact that the [district] has bought this, having that ready to go, having [it] go out and speak to developers, it’s taking all that fear away.”

Maple Ridge’s Town Centre Area Plan calls for medium and high-density residential towers for the properties.

New buildings also could qualify for tax and building fee incentives, while further breaks are available to energy-smart buildings, all part of the downtown plan, which stresses a walkable, eco-friendly downtown.

Realtor Ron Antalek couldn’t say if the district was being too demanding by promoting high-rise development on the property.

But he did say the price was right. “It comes at a very good value.”

Currently, market prices in Maple Ridge don’t support the higher construction costs of high-rise construction, Antalek said. “I see a lot of developers hesitant,” because of prices. Current prices per square foot are lower now than in 2007.

“It’s like any development. It has to be feasible and it has to be viable before we see the development community willing to invest,” Antalek added.

Ernie Beaudin, with Decker Management, which sold the property, said the district should allow less-dense, four-storey walk-up apartments if it wants new development in the core area.

The downtown plan does allow three or four-storey buildings with ground-floor commercial, Mayor Ernie Daykin pointed out. A four-storey apartment complex already has been approved for an adjoining property east of 226th Street and Haney Place Mall.

“We want density, but I also understand the realities of the marketplace. Is concrete high rise something that’s going to happen in Maple Ridge in the short term?

“I think we’re going to be open to lots of options,” Daykin said.

Already, there have been two inquiries.

Daykin reiterated that the municipality isn’t in the development business, and while it won’t take the first offer, it doesn’t want to sit on the property for years.

Council will decide whether to accept any particular offer, he pointed out.

“We’re not prepared to sell it to another holding company that’s going to sit on it for five years.”

What is helping during the slow real estate market is the district’s list of incentives to build in the downtown by giving breaks on property taxes and development fees.

Those have helped two projects in which Antalek is involved – at 11566 – 224th St. on the Haney Bypass, and the other being Ghalib Rawji’s proposal to build townhouses on the former site of Northumberland Court, the troubled complex on Fraser Street that was shut down last year. Work on the first project starts this spring.

“These incentives created by the district are one reason that motivate him [the developer of the building on the bypass] to step up to the plate,” Daykin said.

“If we are successful in this one, he’ll do another one.”

Antalek said developers will put in an application for a project, get it to third reading, then apply for a year’s extension or let the entire project lapse. “The big difference is they’re going to do these now.”

Even changes to the B.C. Building Code, allowing wood-framed buildings to rise to five storeys, is making a difference for another condo project at the foot of Burnett Street, he pointed out.