Bob Jones and Lynda Lawrence of the Downtown Parking Society at one of the downtown district lots that could be sold and developed.

Bob Jones and Lynda Lawrence of the Downtown Parking Society at one of the downtown district lots that could be sold and developed.

Downtown Maple Ridge parking lots could be sold

Some lots owned by District of Maple Ridge are in ‘prime locations’

Some of the district’s downtown parking lots could be gobbled up by developers, if the right offer is made and other space found for employee vehicles.

A Maple Ridge staff report says some of the lots are in “prime locations” and could catch the interest of developers, then serve as a “catalyst” for more projects

The proposal, though, surprised the Downtown Parking Society, which has managed five of the district’s eight downtown lots for the past 20 years.

“I know the city [district] owns them and I know the city has the right to do whatever it wants,” but considering the volunteer time given over the years, “I think … we should have the opportunity to be involved,” said parking society chairman Bob Jones.

The society was formed in the 1990s to help provide employee parking in the downtown, to free up customer parking on downtown streets.

Downtown businesses paid a property tax levy to cover the $1.5 million the district borrowed to buy the properties.

“The purpose of this was because we had a horrible parking problem,” Jones told council’s committee meeting on Monday.

The purchase amount has all been repaid, which, with interest, totaled $2.8 million.

The levy has since been converted to fund the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.

Over the years, the parking lots have improved business conditions. “It’s really helped with the downtown.”

Jones was concerned about the downtown losing parking spaces if the district sells the lots to developers, but a staff report says the number of parking stalls in the downtown must remain the same.

If a developer buys a lot and puts up a new building, it would have to provide public parking space, or the district could buy another lot elsewhere.

Jones could accept an arrangement if the district sold a lot and used the money to enhance parking elsewhere, possibly through construction of a multi-storey parkade.

It’s possible someone’s eyeing the Selkirk Avenue lot, near 224th Street, for a condo development, he added.

If council likes the report, it could also ask for new bids for managing the downtown lots. The report says the service provided by the  Downtown Parking Society is overdue for review,” so a public tender will ensure “the best value and most effective use and management of the lots.”

Jones welcomes any review or competitive bid process.

The society collects parking fees and maintains the lots and has only one full-time employee. It’s annual profit is about $20,000, which it ships to the District of Maple Ridge, where it goes to the parking fund.

Maple Ridge currently owns eight lots in the downtown.

Five of those lots are managed by the Downtown Parking Society. Those lots are on Selkirk, North, Brown and 119th avenues, and another at 225th Street, off Lougheed Highway.

Maple Ridge also owns a lot on 227th Street, with the remaining two lots on Edge Street and North Avenue.

The report says developing a longer-term plan for the lots will ensure their best use.

Jones also pointed out that a long-term goal was to create a multi-storey parkade for downtown parking and said money was supposed to be set aside from developers. He estimated that fund to be about $1 million.