Council starts looking for local jobs and where to locate them

Commercial-industrial strategy approved by Maple Ridge Council

Maple Ridge wants to grow its employment base and if that means gutting the district’s long-term plan, council may do just that.

On Monday, council OK’d the start of its commercial-industrial strategy, which will set out by year’s end how Maple Ridge will grow the number of local jobs and where that growth will take place.

“We want to send a clear message – anything goes. Don’t have it eliminated beforehand or not even looked at,” said Coun. Cheryl Ashlie.

She doesn’t want the district’s official community plan or outdated goals to rule out any options and called for terms of reference to ensure the consultant who writes the strategy will have a perspective that “opens up the whole landscape.

“Look at all the opportunities that can come to us,” then overlay the OCP principles to see if they fit and see what barriers exist, she added.

She didn’t want objectives in the OCP to eliminate opportunities over the next 30 to 40 years and said the public should be able to say if it wants to keep those principles or go after jobs.

Based on the staff report, “already we’re limiting what we’re going to look at. We want to make sure we get this right. This is so important.”

But public works manager Frank Quinn said staff didn’t intend on limiting options and pointed out that the community plan recognized that more work is needed. The district has heard for years that more jobs and business development are needed, he added.

Growing commercial or industrial areas will increase the district’s tax base and could relieve the pressure on residential homeowners to pay the bills.

“There are no blinkers on this. We are looking at this with a completely open mind,” Quinn said.

“We’re right on the same page here.”

He said the strategy could result in changes to the official community plan, exclusions to the Agricultural Land Reserve and changes to Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy.

“This is probably the most significant piece of work we’ve done in a while.”

Maple Ridge’s current OCP already states that a land-use strategy could see the district seek to expand its urban boundary to allow more commercial and business use.

The first step in the strategy is reviewing all the existing documents and plans and preparing background studies with updated information by May.

In June, the consultant, hired with $75,000 allocated in the budget, then will lay out some options for council. Once the politicians make their decisions, an open house will take place a few weeks later. Final presentation happens in December.

Coun. Bob Masse had similar thoughts as Ashlie, saying staff properly drew on directions of past councils, reports and the OCP.  But he wanted a broad-minded approach.

“With respect, I think we need to examine and perhaps modify some aspects of these documents.”

Coun. Mike Morden said the strategy shouldn’t be limited by the OCP. “Let’s see what we can come up with,” and see if can be done within the OCP.

“There might be a good case for looking at some new lands and different lands,” or redevelopment of new areas, added Coun. Al Hogarth.

He pointed out that while there is commercial and business areas available in Maple Ridge, they’re scattered, whereas developing a comprehensive area could create more momentum.

“If we go along the same route that we are now, we don’t have enough land, either for jobs or population growth.”

According to the Regional Growth Strategy, Maple Ridge is supposed to have 134,000 people by 2041. It’s also supposed to be able to provide 49,000 jobs, about double what it has now.

Coun. Judy Dueck said the report on the strategy doesn’t have a narrow focus and says that the district could change.

Mayor Ernie Daykin said he was looking forward to the strategy and pointed out it was supposed to be done before council tackled Albion flats. He pointed out that a 2004 study showed that 44 per cent of commercial land was vacant or under-utiliized.

Has that changed, he asked.

What hasn’t changed is the vacant and under-utilized Albion flats area south of Lougheed Highway comprising 260 acres, he added.

• The staff report notes several changes since a 2003 report on commercial and industrial lands. Those include the completion of Golden Ears and Pitt River bridges, growth of the downtown, the Agricultural Land Commission’s rejection of exclusion of the Pelton tree nursery lands at 203rd Street and Golden Ears Way from the land reserve, the ALC’s green light on land east of 105th Avenue in Albion flats, development in Mission and Pitt Meadows, the new agricultural plan and the proposed new shopping mall and suburbs on Kwantlen First Nations land on Lougheed Highway and 260th Street.

• The first three community principles (out of a total of 45) in the 2006 OCP focus on protecting agricultural land.

The fifth principle reads:

“Building a unique community character is critical to ensuring that Maple Ridge does not succumb to pressure and becomes like “everywhere else.” It requires strong political and community commitment and attention to a variety of aspects (landscapes, built form, heritage, mix of uses, urban design, services, etc.).”