The proposed development would see 21 townhouse units built along the Fraser River in the first phase.

The proposed development would see 21 townhouse units built along the Fraser River in the first phase.

First steps for Port Haney riverfront

Twenty-one townhomes proposed for wharf area in Maple Ridge.

A multi-year condo project that will change the face of Maple Ridge started Monday with a plan to build 21 townhouses on River Road, flanking both sides of Port Haney Wharf.

The housing project, if approved, will kickstart changes that will link downtown to Kanaka Creek Regional Park, using a riverfront walkway and boardwalk featuring viewpoints, street furniture and public art.

Details on the former remain to be sorted out, but the rezoning proposal sets out Phase 1 of the plan, which is to build seven townhouses on the west side of the wharf and 14 on the east.

Five other phases would follow over the next five years, resulting in three residential towers built between the CP Railway line and the river.

A waterfront park, board walk and pathways connecting to Kanaka Creek Regional Park, as well as a marina and seaplane terminal are all part of the project.

Coun. Bob Masse wanted to know how people and cars will cross CP Rail’s train tracks.

They’ll do so using two controlled crossings that are already there – one that leads to the wharf, which has gates and lights, and another crossing farther east.

“That is the intent, is to enhance those as required, to accommodate the amount of traffic that will happen, both for the residents and the visitors down to the location,” said Norman Laube, with Omicron Canada, partnering in the development with Northview Enterprises, which owns the former log sorting property.

The townhouses will be metres from the CP Rail mainline, but construction will include triple window glazing and vibration isolation padding in the foundation.

Coun. Mike Morden wanted to know how stable the soil was in the area. But a geotechnical report by GeoPacific Consultants says the soil conditions will allow building without any piles, which would have to be sunk into the ground, or preloading of soil.

“So it’s a very solid, stable base that’s there now,” Laube told council, which first saw a presentation on the proposal in July 2012.

Coun. Al Hogarth is concerned about the height and density of residential development along the tracks, where train whistles could prompt complaints.

“These are two major crossings where the whistles are going to continue,” he said. “Have you looked at any alternative access to the site?”

An overpass over the tracks farther east, where the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is trying to sell property, could provide a link to the Albion Industrial Area.

Laube said building close to the railway was one of the first questions addressed when planning the project. But he pointed to the new housing project called Bedford Landing in Langley near the CN mainline which uses signalized crossings and sound attenuation measures.

An overpass would be expensive and there are only 300 units in all in the multi-phase project, Laube added.

Hogarth said in the past, there have been two train derailments within a kilometre of the site.

“The question for me would be around looking at the safety,” not just noise, he added.

According to the Maple Ridge Museum, a derailment occurred in the 1940s and another on May 2, 1981.

A staff report notes that the site is in the floodplain of the Fraser River, but living space will be located above the flood-plain elevation.

Steve Litke, with the Fraser Basin Council, said building in the flood plain is the norm in the Lower Mainland.

“The ideal is we don’t develop those types of areas and give it [the river] more space.”

Instead, buildings in the flood plain are built to ensure the living space is above the Fraser River’s flood of record set in 1894.

“My personal bias, and I’m not speaking for the Fraser Basin Council, is the most effective way … is to stay back from the river on high ground.”

But he knows that’s not realistic.

One compromise for builders would be to raise their building by another, say half a metre, above flood level, to add further protection and protect a project over a longer period of time from the coming effects of climate change and higher water levels.

The Fraser Basin Council is currently working on a Lower Mainland Flood Management Strategy to work out a regional plan involving all levels of government.

“The costs of responding to a major flood event far outweigh the costs associated with effective, proactive planning and investments across the region,” the council says on its website.

More than 300,000 people already live in the flood plain in the Lower Mainland, says the Fraser Basin Council.