Don Watson and his wife have lived on the corner of Selkirk and 227th for close to 20 years, and have seen the neighbourhood deteriorate around them.
He’s had his workshop broken into more times than he cares to remember. He doesn’t even bother phoning the police anymore. He just cleans up the mess and makes sure not to leave anything valuable in there.
“It used to be all right down here,” Watson says. “My daughter used to live on this street, my son, too.”
But that was years go. They left before the addicts and criminals moved in and took the area over, a steady decline that worsened over the past 10 years, he says.
Most of the aging war homes on the block now sport a toupee of moss upon their sagging roofs. The picket fences have been kicked over, the lawns are largely overgrown, garbage bags are used as window hangings, and what little paint is left is faded and peeling.
Ridge Meadows RCMP arrested 12 people and seized a cache of crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and other illegal drugs from one of the houses on Selkirk Avenue just two months ago.
Soon that house, and every other house on that block, will all be gone.
Tuesday night, Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin formally announced that the District of Maple Ridge has purchased 14 properties between Haney Place and Valley Fair malls – including the one Watson rents – for $3.7 million, with the hopes the area will be developed into a high-density, modern residential and commercial district.
But first the district has to clear, then sell the three-acre property.
The district began serving eviction notices to the residents on the remaining 10 occupied properties earlier this month. Paul Gill, the district’s general manager of corporate and financial services, said everyone living there should be out within three months.
He added that the district is trying to help residents find new accommodations, and put them in touch with various social agencies if they can’t find a place to live.
“We’re the lucky ones, we got somewhere to go,” says Watson.
He and his wife have bought a home on 128th Avenue, and have already started moving.
“Most of the people around here, they don’t have any money, so I don’t know where they’ll find a place,” he says. “This area will be a lot nicer, but those people are just going somewhere else.”
Once all the residents have moved, Gill says the entire block, from Selkirk Avenue to 119th Street, will be bulldozed and flattened to make way for future development.
“This is a problem area,” he says. “But there’s a lot of potential there.”
For years, Gill says people have been asking the District to do something with the land between the two malls. With its purchase, the District now controls its fate.
“I think this is going to prove to be a great acquisition,” he says.
Lisa Blaine, who manages the Warm Hearth Heating Centre at the corner of 226th Street and Selkirk Avenue, won’t miss that motley collection of rotting houses one bit.
“The police are always down there. There’s just constant drama,” she says. “It’s going to be a lot nicer knowing those places won’t be there anymore.”
Even a vacant lot is preferable to what is now there, she said.
“I’m excited. I think its going to be a really good thing for the downtown.”