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Councillor says Maple Ridge not charging developers enough

Millions in breaks for builders will go on tax bills, says Robson
The city is about to increase the charges developers must pay in Maple Ridge. (Neil Corbett/The News)

The city of Maple Ridge has left millions of dollars uncollected, to the benefit of developers, and the detriment of citizens, says city councillor Gordy Robson.

The city could easily have paid for a new pool, arena or other amenity with the funds not collected just in this term, which the former mayor estimates will be as high as $80 to $100 million. Instead, he said, taxpayers will now be forced to cover those costs.

Mayor Mike Morden said those estimates are speculative.

The problem, Robson said, is that developers are being charged much less in their per-unit and per-house fees than neighbouring communities. Builders pay development cost charges, or DCCs, and in more recent years have added they also pay amenity fees. The principle is that developers should help bear the cost of the roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure needed to service the new homes they build and sell.

On June 27, the city audit and finance committee saw a report on DCCs, saying they need to be raised. The last increase was in 2017, and was based on costs in 2016. DCCs cover costs of roads, sewers, drainage, water works, buying parkland and developing parks.

Looking at comparisons, Maple Ridge charges some of the lowest DCC rates in the region. A single family lot is assessed $22,465, where Surrey charges its developers $46,000, Richmond $42,000, Langley Township a proposed $39,000, Abbotsford $36,000 and Coquitlam’s charge will rise to a proposed $60,000.

Townhouses here cost builders $134 per square metre, apartments $132 and commercial buildings $119. As with houses, the charge for apartments and townhouses is less than half that of some neighbouring communities.

Townsend proposed DCCs increase from $22,465 per lot to $41,000 for houses, for an increase of 83 per cent. There would similarly be increases ranging from 77-80 per cent increases for townhouse and apartments. There are also proposed rate increases for commercial and industrial developments.

After the rate is increased through a council bylaw amendment, any applications already in the process of approval pay the current rate.

There are also Community Amenity Contributions, and those charges were reviewed council in May. These fees started in Maple Ridge in 2016, to cover such things as buying land for parks and trails, civic facilities, affordable housing and other projects.

In mid-2021, Urban Systems Consultants did a rate review for the city, and recommended hefty rate increases.

The current fees are $3,100 per unit for apartments, $4,100 per unit for townhouses and $5,100 per lot for houses. The consultant recommended phased increases starting in the middle of 2022, and landing on $5,600 for apartments, $7,400 for townhouses and $9,200 for houses by the middle of 2023.

Robson brought the issue of DCC charges up in a committee meeting on July 19, where he estimated the city has failed to charge developers $30 to $40 million, compared with what it could have garnered had the increase been made when the new council was first elected.

Reached for clarification, Robson said the uncharged amount is at least $40 million, but he asserts the actual figure will be much higher, combining lost development and amenity charges, and also considering that council’s timeline for increases will allow developers to get their projects in process, and not subject to the increased rates. He noted that council dealt with 700 units at Tuesday’s meeting alone.

“It’s $80 to $100 million that we’ve either forgiven, or are going to forgive,” he said, adding the shortfall will have to be made up through general taxation.

Mayor Mike Morden, took issue with Robson’s estimates, saying Robson’s “continual citation of inaccurate numbers is disappointing and less than helpful.”

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He said the city charged developers $30.6 million in the first three years of this council term. The city collected $23.7 million in DCCs and $5.7 million in CACs.

Morden said CACs will be increased effective Aug. 1, and DCC increases are in process, with hikes over 80 per cent anticipated.

“Over the last three years council has done a tremendous amount of policy and planning work with staff to shift gears towards building a complete community,” said Morden in a written response. “We aren’t a small town anymore, we’re well on our way to a big city now, one that will grow from 92K today to 150K by 2050. We must provide jobs at home, higher density mixed-use transit-oriented development, build and maintain necessary infrastructure, all to responsibly meet the needs and expectations of our residents.

“Income diversification strategies are also underway. To these ends, much of council’s foundational work is complete, but one area of critical of importance is having the right financial policies in place, two being CAC’s and DCC’s. These are just one part of a complete financial policy review currently underway. Also under review is our development and approvals processes, our service delivery approach model, all to ensure timely and consistent delivery of core municipal services,” he continued.

”Some of these factors impact the cost of housing in our region where land and building are costly. When you’re intent on building a great city, these are all important steps to ensure costs are apportioned appropriately, using considerate policies, thereby mitigating taxes on homeowners.

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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