Election 2014: Election debate turns to sprawl

Is the cost of growing in Maple Ridge too much to bear?

Development charges don’t pay for the costs of building a fire hall or library to serve the new area

Development charges don’t pay for the costs of building a fire hall or library to serve the new area

Do you want your property taxes to keep rising, yearly, four to five to six per cent, the way they have the last decade?

All Maple Ridge has to do is keep growing the way it’s been growing, says Craig Speirs.

“I think it’s time to say, ‘That’s enough.’ We have to move forward in a more efficient way. That will create need for less taxes.”

Speirs is seeking election to Maple Ridge council Nov. 15 and is crusading against sprawl.

There’s a link between constantly rising taxes and suburban expansion, he says.

Speirs wants a review of both the Albion and Silver Valley area plans, as well as the official community plan, which calls for expansion to Thornhill when Maple Ridge’s population hits 100,000.

Maple Ridge just completed a review of the Silver Valley plan’s projections.

“What it does, is pile on taxes to the urban dwellers. The people who are living in the already-serviced areas start subsidizing this type of suburban sprawl.”

Speirs said council has to start listening to senior staff at city hall.

Earlier this year, finance general manager Paul Gill said taxes raised from suburbs don’t pay for all the services they consume over the years. Developers install the roads, sewers and sidewalks, then once a subdivision is built, turn it over to the city to maintain for decades.

As well, development charges don’t pay for the costs of building a fire hall or library to serve the new area. Instead, those costs are spread across the city’s tax base.

Other cities are also realizing the cost of suburban development.

Kristina Brown, a Vancouver realtor who lives in Silver Valley, is also campaigning against that type of growth and says Maple Ridge should densify its western areas first.

“If our city continues to simply build houses farther and farther to the east and north, with no consideration paid to services and amenities, we are going to be left with higher taxes, a traffic nightmare, no amenities and more unhappy residents,” she says on her website.

Speirs, who lives on a half-acre lot in Maple Ridge, says the current council has approved about 200 one-acre lots in the past three years within its rural, forested areas. He calls that another type of sprawl and says the minimum lot size in the rural area should be five acres so that there are fewer people in the far-flung areas, resulting in less demand for services. That would put less pressure on services and protect the existing forest.

He disagrees with a recent decision by council to reject a staff report that recommended a simple denial of a plan to build more than 100 modular homes, outside the urban boundary, near the South Alouette River at 240th Street.

Only Mayor Ernie Daykin and Coun. Cheryl Ashlie supported the staff who said the whole proposal should be rejected.

Most on council voted to ask staff to find a way to rework the development and get more information.

“I don’t understand why they gave it a lifeline. Just makes no sense to me,” Speirs said.

Mayoralty challenger Nicole Read, who also lives in Silver Valley, opposes the modular home project.

“The community firmly said no and staff encouraged that it be denied, so why did they move it forward?”

There are no sidewalks and no bus service and it’s a half-hour walk to the nearest store, she added.

Maple Ridge should make it easier to build new projects in the west part of the city, she added, increasing population density, to take the pressure off the east.

Many cities have suburbs, but for some reason in Maple Ridge, people have to wait decades for services such as sidewalks, said Read.

“Where did they think the money was going to come from to complete the services that we actually need?”

Daykin said Maple Ridge is controlling sprawl because it’s not building suburbs in Whonnock or Webster’s’ Corners.

“We have a clearly defined urban boundary.”

But he supports the official plan, which calls for new suburbs in Thornhill, east of 248th Street, once Maple Ridge hits a population of 100,000.

“At least that’s contiguous to Albion. It’s not like we’re leapfrogging an area to get there.”

He disagrees with Speirs’ contention that all tax increases result from the costs of servicing new suburbs. This year’s general municipal tax increase is only 2.2 per cent. And if new homes and condos are built in the established areas of Maple Ridge, known as infill development, where there are already sidewalks and sewers, people still would demand services, he added.

Council has supported several infill developments in west Maple Ridge, Daykin added.

He doesn’t see the increasing number of one-acre lots in Maple Ridge’s forested areas as an issue. The topic wasn’t top of mind when the official community plan was rewritten in 2006.

Daykin said he wants to keep the urban boundary intact and follow the OCP and Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our Future plan, which calls for a Maple Ridge population of 130,000 by that date.

Mayoralty challenger Graham Mowatt says Maple Ridge should stick to its official community plan and not offer density bonusing in the Albion area, which means putting more homes and people into an area where there are still service shortages.

Instead, growth and density should be funneled to the downtown, he said, as already prescribed in the plan.

And Mowatt wants the city to speed up processing times for building and development permits.

To help pay for services, he suggests Maple Ridge raise development fees, which are now below the Metro Vancouver average.

Mowatt also opposes reviewing the application to build modular homes along the Alouette River, calling it “sprawl.”

Coun. Mike Morden, also challenging Daykin for mayor, pointed out the modular home proposal lies within Metro Vancouver’s urban boundary.

“To me, that was a grey zone.”

He added, he didn’t say he was supporting the project yet, noting there is no transit.

As for the costs of suburban growth, building at the same time in Albion and Silver Valley stretched out infrastructure costs and made it expensive.

“If you are responsibly growing as a community and you do it an area at a time and have the proper plan, I think it all works because you’re doing it with a combination of development and municipal sponsorship and you’ve got community buy-in because you’ve agreed to go there.”